The Gelatin Plunge: Baptism of Hope

What's gelatin got to do with it?

Writing about a fundraising event for the Children’s Cancer Center, you can pull the audience in with a sob story if you want. I can use statistics to show the influence of chronic blood disorders and cancer, and how not even children are spared of life-changing diagnoses. At the Fourth Annual Gelatin Plunge, there could have been a cloud hanging over the event in spite of the tens of thousands dollars raised for support. Indeed, some of the participants could have been introduced as “victim comma” before sliding down into orange gelatin. But when I look back through my camera roll, I see nothing but smiling faces. There are the smiling faces of children, siblings, and grandparents. I see the faces of survivors, those undergoing treatment, and people who want to help. Truly, the only anxiety surrounding the Gelatin Plunge on June 18 was at the top of the slide looking down and the waiting time between the surprisingly cold gelatin pond and towel to warm up with. If there was theme, I found it to be, “There’s life after diagnosis. It’s a hell of a lot of fun.”

One of my first observations about the Gelatin Plunge was that you could really feel it. Not the emotional kind either. It was a hot day where if you weren’t watching the plunge you were flocking to the DJ tent, merchandise area, or a shaded place to munch on something from the food trucks. There was also a fire hose if you were so inclined. While the food was great (I had a gyro), the music was lively, and there was plenty of sightseeing (it was a good looking crowd), we’re kidding ourselves if we don’t think pounds of gelatin would be the main event.

Starting at about 11 a.m., representatives from major sponsors, local celebrities, children and families with the Cancer Center, and Alice and Leroy Bate (headlining guests) kicked off the afternoon by taking the plunge. The Bates have been involved with the center for decades, long before the “Gelatin Plunge” was a twinkle in the eye, and drove hundreds of miles to be there. According to Alice, Leroy is the more “daring” of the two, and she watched her husband “break in” the gelatin to rile up the crowd behind him. Plenty of the “plungers” had kind words to say about the cause, including Julie Weintraub, Miguel from HOT 101.5 and Miss Tampa. The Executive Director of the Children’s Cancer Center, Patty O’Leary, who “emceed” the plunge, was sharp on the mic, not hesitating to call out her husband who was in the audience for Miss Tampa’s plunge but curiously disappeared thereafter. There were as many costumes as there were plunging styles on the day, with some choosing to go down more conventionally whereas others slid down on their backs, face-first, on top of someone, or even forgoing the slide altogether cannon-ball style. After a couple hours, the crowd had thinned, the staff had slid (the marketing coordinator and special event coordinator chose the two-at-a-time approach), and my time had come. After taking it all in with my camera and my notepad, it was time to soak it all in with the plunge. It can’t be that cold, right?

The DJ, who happened to be a really nice guy, called my name and gave a shout out to Creative Loafing. I had witnessed the “ooohs” and “aahs” of everyone that had already gone, and seen their expressions suggest “What did I get myself into?” I had photographed and recorded every plunger and probably had more time for preparation than anyone else. I knew the different methods for plunging (face-first, on your back, etc…) and had a pretty good idea I’d be cold. In a few hours, I had become an expert on plunging through an outsider’s perspective. But when I climbed to the top of the slide, I realized that perspective is everything and science is guesswork. I did a cannon ball.

 When I came up, it’s not an exaggeration to say I was a new man. Other than my body temperature cooling a few degrees, there’s something about being enveloped by gelatin that forces you to be happy. After the plunge, I felt freer, lighter (not literally), and found myself dancing to “nice-guy DJ” tunes more than at any other time that day. Gelatin Plunge, I’d discovered that a trip into gelatin is a baptism of joy. And when I look at my camera roll, now I’ll know why everyone is smiling.