One cold dip: Locals plunge for good health

By Sarah Brown
Lebanon Local

Saturday, April 1, was a chilly 43 degrees with rain showers, but that didn’t stop about a dozen residents from jumping into the Santiam River at Gill’s Landing for a crisp dip.
NW Fit owner Nolan Womack engages in the practice on a weekly basis, sometimes bringing clients from his Lebanon-based gym. The discipline is referred to as “cold exposure.”
“There’s a ton of alleged health benefits,” he said.

NW Fit owner and cold-exposure advocate Nolan Womack drips with Santiam water while others wrap themselves in towels.

According to Womack, some of those possible benefits include improvement of circulation, conversion of yellow fat to brown fat (a self-regulating and self-burning fat), increase in longevity, “some really cool things” for anxiety and depression and improvement of a body’s response to cortisol, the stress hormone.
“This improves your body’s ability to handle stress,” he said. “There are the events of our lives, things that happen to us, but it matters more what our interpretation and our response to these events are. This helps you detach and kind of stay in control over your response to those events.”
On this day, about half of the group walked into the water while the other jumped or slid in from the dock. Their goal was to remain in the river for two minutes. Womack instructed them to touch their fingertips to check for numbness and he cracked a joke while they endured the cold.

“Did you hear about what happened at the funeral for the guy who invented the Hokey Pokey?” he asked. “They couldn’t close his casket because when they put his right leg in, he put his right leg out.”
Some plungers were first-timers, like Liberty and Mike Fouts, who have collectively lost 180 pounds in the last year. Liberty called it a challenge they wanted to try, one they couldn’t have done in the past.
Mike was the first one out after about 30 seconds. His response: a quick “Brrrr.” However, he indicated that he wanted to build his tolerance and do it again.
Womack began practicing cold exposure about a year and a half ago, starting mostly with cold showers. Last December, he began his weekly routine of jumping into the river at Gill’s Landing.
“It’s like lifting weights for your mental health where you only do what you can tolerate and then you come out, and gradually you acclimate to it over time,” he said. “It’s a measurable way you can improve your mental health.”
Kayla Cohn also participated for the first time, partly for her health and partly as a way to celebrate her birthday that day.
“I’m more nervous than anything,” she said before entering the river. “I don’t know what to expect.”
Her goal was 45 seconds, but she found she could manage the full two minutes.
“I thought it was amazing,” she said afterward. “It wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. It was really fun.”
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, which records data in Waterloo, the Santiam’s temperature was about 43.7 degrees that day. First-timer Alysia Rodgers had a less math-based reaction.
“It’s freakin’ cold,” she said. “I’m proud of myself. I can’t feel my body, but I don’t feel as cold as I thought I was going to afterwards.”
Womack, who’s built up his tolerance longer than his clients, didn’t seem fazed by the frigidity. However, Kim and Mike Sabbatino participating in their third dip, described the experience succinctly.
“Painful,” they said. “Very cold, and as soon as you get out, you feel warm and a rush of energy.”