Cold Water Challenge

Teens Looking at Tablet

A new (actually not that new, but gaining in popularity) trend is sweeping the teens: the “Cold Water Challenge”. I was hoping to ignore this fad, but today I saw a group of teens do it as I was walking through the park. Now I have to address it.

Polar Plunges sponsored by the Special Olympics have been going on for years; however it’s important to note that these events have emergency personnel on hand just in case something bad happens.

The phenomenon gained new life after the family of Landon Shaw, a 6 month old cancer patient from Missouri, created the “Plunge for Landon” challenge, which raised more than $250,000. Since then, a number of Facebook pages dedicated to the so-called “Cold Water Challenge” have been popping up all over. People post videos in which they say who “nominated” them and to whom they’re passing on the challenge. Then they jump into the cold waters of a lake or river (or some just get doused in water). In some cases, those who are challenged must donate a certain amount of money to charity if they fail to take the plunge within 24 hours. In other cases, people jump and still donate to charity. In another variation, the challenge is just a dare with no charity involved.

So, what’s the big deal? Last week, a teen in Minnesota died from it. A man doing the “Plunge for Landon” fractured vertebrae. A 16-year-old girl from my hometown of Fond du Lac tore ligaments in her knee when she jumped into Lake Winnebago. There are many other reports of injuries associated with the “Cold Water Challenge”. One reason for these injuries is overestimation of the depth of the water being jumped into. Another reason is the body’s response to being immersed in cold water. Initially, there is an automatic gasp reflex in response to rapid cooling.  If the head goes underwater, water may be breathed into the lungs during the gasp.  The result is simple: drowning. Even apart from the “Cold Water Challenge”, drowning ranks fifth among the leading causes of unintentional injury death in the United States.

It’s wonderful that teens want to give to charity, just be smart about it. Wear life jackets, check the depth of the water you’re jumping into, and never try it alone. Better yet, donate to charity without doing the “Cold Water Challenge.”