The air was 37 degrees, the slight breeze cutting through their coats as they stood outside the Foy. With the clouds rolling in, the various photographers huddling underneath a tent blasting heat from external heaters and the air this cold, it was the perfect opportunity to jump in the pool.
As part of the Coming Home festivities at APSU, students gathered at the Foy Fitness Center pool for the annual Polar Plunge. Before the actual plunge itself, several groups of students, about 20 or 25 total, teamed up to build miniature rafts out of pool noodles, rope and plastic wrap. The goal of these team challenges was to have a team member sit on the raft and the rest of the team pull them down the length of the pool and back.
Gustav Norström, a business major and exchange student from Sweden, said he heard about the Plunge from the Office of International Education.
“We had a tactical meeting the night before [the Polar Plunge],” Norström said. He said they led a Mudbowl team last year, and they were excited to participate in this year’s Plunge.
He also said Sweden doesn’t have events like this.
“There is no warm water in Sweden,” Norström said. “We just dig a hole in the ice and jump in.”
The event started at around 3 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 2, and ended at around 4:15 p.m. with all the participants collectively diving into the 50-degree pool. Many of the contestants were still wearing blazers and fancy dresses from a competition right before the Polar Plunge.
John Huang, an education major and one of Norström’s teammates from Taiwan, was among those cheering on his teammates and other participants. He said he participated in events like this and Mudbowl in order to experience American culture first-hand.
During their group photo, he had the group yell “We are not from China!” In fact, this was a kind of rallying cry for their team, who were all international students from various different countries.
“Huang said this was because of the “controversial political situation” surrounding Taiwan’s status as a country.
“People often think Taiwan is part of China,” he said. “I often get questions like, am I from China. I am not from China. I am from Taiwan.”
Huang further said China has “brainwashed” the world into believing Taiwan is part of China, and he said he wants to raise awareness about the truth surrounding his country.
The raft challenge was not a competition in terms of first place, second or third, and no team received prizes beyond the chance to join all the other contestants in diving into the pool at the end of the event. Participants instead focused on teamwork and cooperation.
Some participants stayed to swim laps or play around in the water, while others immediately hopped out of the water and sprinted to the designated heating area, covered in a tent with two large heaters blowing hot air directly into the tent, able to finally escape the cold.