I have a long history with ice. As a hoopster playing well past my athletic prime, my ice ritual is of polar proportions. It involves cold packs and cold wraps and ice bags applied to just about every joint in my lower body. As I write this, I'm icing a sore hamstring.
Coldness against my skin hardly even registers anymore, but, even so, I had my anxieties before embarking on a new ice vista.
The cold tub.
This extreme therapy is extremely simple. Fill one of those old aluminum whirlpool tubs with ice and water so that the temperature is between 45 and 50 degrees, then sit in it. And stay there. For 15 to 20 minutes.
The cold tub has become increasingly popular with football players, and Tampa Bay Storm arena players are no exception. One veteran, Lawrence Samuels, does the cold tub three or four days a week — and submerges up to his neck. Most of the other guys go in about waist deep.
As an old hand in the ice game, I knew I had to try this, and Storm trainer Matt Benson was gracious enough to allow me access. A few of the players seemed surprised that a media guy would take on one of their more arduous rituals, and I sensed quite a bit of doubt. The team's PR guy, Brian Dancel, was more succinct. "No way!" he said, summing up my chances.
I had my doubts, too. A cold pack pressed against my knee is one thing, dropping into a tub of ice water quite another.
I showed up at the crowded training room on a Tuesday, carrying spandex compression shorts and a towel. I had to wait for Samuels and another player to finish their session, so I sat around kind of fidgety. You know when you go to the dentist and each minute in the waiting room just makes you more apprehensive? It was like that.
I talked to Samuels while just his head protruded from the water. He's 36. "If you wanna play, you gotta get in," he said with a smile (and I thought I detected a tiny quiver in his voice). "It's cold."
Certain players swear by the treatment. They feel it invigorates their bodies, gives them fresh legs. Benson explained that the cold tub helps the body recover by acting as a blast of anti-inflammatory and blocking pain receptors.
My turn. I looked at the long-stemmed thermometer. 50 degrees. No toe-in-the water stuff, I thought, just drop right in. My ass landed on an inverted plastic bucket. Uh, it was c-c-c-cold. But nothing I couldn't handle. As a matter of fact, it was much easier than I'd expected. I went in almost up to my chest. At first my body stung a little, then ached, then went kind of numb.
I spent the time chatting with an intern trainer, Heather Ross, and asked her to pour more ice in. I wanted to break the 50-degree mark. She told me to move my legs back and forth, which sent fresh blasts of cold around. After 15 minutes, I arose proudly, my skin from the chest down a pinkish hue from the 48-degree plunge. My teeth hadn't chattered once. I walked kind of stiffly at first, but quickly got my stride back.
Did the cold tub work? I played basketball at the YMCA later that afternoon, and was throwing down all sorts of dunks — windmills and tomahawks and 360s and the like. Not bad for a guy slightly over 6 feet tall and slightly over 50 years old.
OK, so all the dunking didn't really happen, but I had a lot of energy and I made a lot of shots from well outside the three-point line. Gotta have good legs for that. I'm sold.