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plunging for a purpose

Bill Ziehl

Bill Ziehl

Profession: Federal Court Security Officer; Retired Police Chief, Foster Police Department

Super Plunger Since: 2016

What initially prompted you to get involved in the Super Plunge for Special Olympics Rhode Island?
I was plunging in the 2015 Torch Run Plunge for Special Olympics RI and came down to the beach to support the Torch Run Super Plungers. While talking with the Super Plungers between their plunges, I learned they were expanding the team in 2016 and the rest is history!

Describe at a high level the Super Plunge experience.
The lead up to the Torch Run Super Plunge gets me motivated. The fund raising, trying to convince people that I’m not crazy (doesn’t work), and telling myself the funds and awareness we are raising will make a lasting impact on the lives of the incredible athletes, many who I call my friends.

The days leading up to the Super Plunge are busy with Kloter Farms delivering the warming sheds on Thursday; then Newport Propane sets up the heaters and propane tanks on Friday and Saturday. For me, the day of the Super Plunge starts with sunrise at the beach! We can’t thank Newport Propane and Kloter Farms enough for what they provide us as the sheds, heaters and propane are all in-kind donations!!!

With regard to the Super Plunge itself, our group of plungers feels incredibly supported by friends, family, athletes and sponsors who stop by the beach at various times to cheer us on. The hard part is when the crowd starts to dwindle, usually after midnight, and when the tide goes out during the night. We’ve plunged in wind chills -13 below zero (2017). It seems like no matter what the forecast predicts, it’s always freezing. One of our sayings is, “The Cold is Temporary, but the Impact is Not.” The impact of what we are doing keeps me going.

I don’t think I would be able to complete the event without my fellow members of the Super Plunge Team. I have no idea how Chief Johnson did the first Super Plunge by himself. That was truly heroic and amazing and 11 years later he’s still plunging. When Special Olympics RI Athlete and Super Plunge Team Captain Mike Bullock started, we were still staying in the gazebo and wrapping it with tent canvas. The conditions were horrible – we didn’t have enough heat, our clothes weren’t drying, and we were literally freezing. Despite the challenges, Mike charged ahead, pumped us up, and made it easy for me to follow him into the freezing water. It is an honor to plunge alongside him.

Given that you’re plunging into icy waters every hour for 24 hours straight, are you able to eat or sleep at all?
I can eat but limit the food as what goes in must come out. The “Dynamites” that Momma LaBreche makes are incredible. Our wives, AKA the “Towel Holders,” always make us some incredible breakfast sandwiches, delivering them shortly after sunup on Sunday. We also have several goodies delivered by various supporters. Somewhere between 11 p.m. and 3 a.m., my skin starts to break down from the salt, sand and wind burn, and around 3 a.m., the day starts to catch up with me. During our 3 a.m. to sunup plunges I usually shut my eyes for a few minutes and then wake up startled.

How do you personally prepare for the Super Plunge?
Leading up to the plunge is quite busy making sure everything is in order. I’ll pack everything that I might need for my one beach weekend of the year. Traditionally, the weekend before our Super Plunge we travel to Maine to partake in the Law Enforcement Torch Run Ice Out Plunge for Special Olympics Maine. Yes, we jump into a very frozen lake!!!

During the Super Plunge, are there any steps you take or rituals you follow before and/or after each of the 24-hour plunges?
My routine is to be prepared for the next plunge as soon as I finish one. I pack 12 swimsuits and about that many towels. After each plunge, I dry off, change into the next swimsuit and – if wearing a sponsor’s shirt or a specific shirt to recognize an organization or a person – I’ll put that on. I then put on a thermal sweatshirt and heavy sweatpants, wool socks and slippers. I wear boots during the day to check on the propane, heaters, or to just mill around chatting with our family, sponsors and supporters. Just before the plunge, I’ll put on what will hopefully be a dry and warm pair of water shoes.

Describe how you feel physically and emotionally after the final 24th plunge?

The fun doesn’t end after the last plunge. We all start breaking down our gear throughout the morning. When the crowds leave after our final Super Plunge and the Torch Run Plunge there are extension cords to roll up and our beach camp to break down. Once the beach clean-up is done, I’ll head to the after party and enjoy a break, a meal, and a drink. We all have someone on hand to drive us home as most of us will fall asleep mid-sentence once we are in the vehicle. We caution the team to avoid or to be extremely careful about showering when they get home as our skin is toast. I’ll admit I’ve screamed and come to tears while showering after some of our past Super Plunges.

Do you have a favorite memory from any of the Super Plunges you’ve participated in?
The moment that solidified my dedication to the Law Enforcement Torch Run program and Special Olympics RI was the “Oh Yeah!” instant following my first Super Plunge. Exhausted and with my skin worn from the challenge, I finally reached the after party. A little girl approached me and said, “Thank You.” My puzzled response, “For What?” was met by her mother’s explanation: “Thanks to what you and your team just did, she will be able to continue to compete.” Those words sparked a lasting commitment to support the amazing athletes of Special Olympics RI.

What message would you like to share with members of the public about your commitment to the Super Plunge and the athletes of Special Olympics Rhode Island, and about how members of the public can support this initiative?
I’d like to THANK everyone that has supported the Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics. The Super Plunge is just one of the many events that we hold throughout the year to benefit Special Olympics RI. Since 1981, the Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics has raised over $1,000,000,000.00 (ONE BILLION) internationally and it all went to Special Olympics.

Aside from the Super Plunge, are you involved with Special Olympics Rhode Island in any other way?
In addition to my role in the Torch Run Super Plunge, I serve as one of the RI Law Enforcement Torch Run Co-Directors. Our committee holds awareness and fundraising events throughout the year such as the iconic Torch Run where we proudly carry the Flame of Hope to open Summer Games, as well as events like the Truck Convoy, Torch Run T-Shirt sale, Torch Run 24 Hour Walk, Clay Fun Shoot, Golf Tournament, and several smaller events. I’m also a member of the Games Management Team for Special Olympics RI and help manage Field Clerking for State Summer Games.  I also attend various sporting events for the organization throughout the year like skiing and basketball as my wife is a coach.

Anything else you’d like to add about the Super Plunge or Special Olympics Rhode Island?
We plunge for a purpose and freeze for a reason! The reason? The incredible athletes of Special Olympics Rhode Island!!! Together we can all make an impact and effect positive change!!!

The Plunging for a Purpose Series

The “Plunging for a Purpose” series celebrates the indomitable spirit of the Torch Run Super Plunge participants. These remarkable individuals are gearing up for an extraordinary challenge: plunging into icy waters every hour for a relentless 24-hour stretch, starting at 1 p.m. on March 23 and concluding at noon on March 24, all at Salty Brine State Beach. Their goal? To raise vital funds and awareness for the athletes of Special Olympics Rhode Island. Through their dedication and selflessness, they inspire us all. Join us in supporting their cause by considering a donation to their remarkable endeavor.