WCU Leadership Academy group looking toward the ‘plunge’

The anticipation has about ended and the shivering is yet to begin for a group of Western Carolina University Leadership Academy participants who have committed to jumping into the frigid waters of Lake Junaluska this coming Saturday, Jan. 31, during the third annual Polar Plunge.

The faculty and staff members who will be taking a dip in the lake near Waynesville, who go by the moniker WCU Purple Plungers, say it’s not too late for other members of the university community to join in the event, which raises money for Haywood Waterways Association’s Kids in the Creek and Youth Education programs. Those who don’t want to endure the cold water can still help out by making a donation in honor of the WCU participants’ efforts, said Lauren Bishop, chief sustainability officer at the university, a member of the WCU Leadership Academy and president of the HWA board of directors.

Bishop will be taking the plunge, along with Laura Cruz, the director of Coulter Faculty Commons who facilitates the activities of the WCU Leadership Academy. At least eight other participants in the university program that cultivates faculty and staff leadership had committed to taking part – Neil Calvert, Mike Corelli, Michael Despeaux, Mandy Dockendorf, David Evanoff, Tammy Frizzell, Ryan Taylor and Gayle Wells. They will be joined by Waynesville dentist Mike Gillespie, a WCU alumnus and HWA supporter.

Dockendorf, assistant director for fitness and wellness in the Campus Recreation Center, said she isn’t too concerned about the lake water temperature because she was raised in the Midwest. “I’m hoping to just block out how cold it really is and focus on getting somewhere warm as soon as I get out of the water,” she said.

Dockendorf said she may benefit from her experience with the cold showers that are the norm each spring when annual maintenance is done on the campus steam plant, resulting in no hot water at the Campus Recreation Center. “I figure I can draw upon that experience and how I manage to survive,” she said.

Dockendorf said she’s not planning on wearing any protective gear for her immersion into Lake Junaluska. On the other hand, Despeaux, associate director of career services and cooperative education, said he has settled on wearing either fishing waders or a kayaking dry suit. “I believe in gear,” he said.

“I’m actually training for (the Polar Plunge) daily – in my outdoor hot tub,” Despeaux said. “My water temperature is about 60 degrees higher, though.”

The Purple Plungers have set up a website to enable others to join the group or make a donation. Gillespie has donated $100 to the effort and created a promotional video.

For more information about the Polar Plunge, contact Bishop at 828-227-3562 or lbishop@wcu.edu.

WCU Leadership Academy participants who will be taking the Polar Plunge and their associates in the university program exact some watery revenge on Polar Pete, the mascot for the Haywood Waterways Association, a few days before the event at Lake Junaluska. Taking part in the hosing down are (from left) Cory Causby, Gayle Wells, Mandy Dockendorf, Michael Despeaux and Cheryl Johnston.

WCU Leadership Academy participants who will be taking the Polar Plunge and their associates in the university program exact some watery revenge on Polar Pete, the mascot for the Haywood Waterways Association, a few days before the event at Lake Junaluska. Taking part in the hosing down are (from left) Cory Causby, Gayle Wells, Mandy Dockendorf, Michael Despeaux and Cheryl Johnston.