• Mark Villani


Fear is a reaction in our minds.

The emotion of being scared isn’t anything physical and it’s not even real.

It’s funny how a simple idea can create so much anxiety, a feeling of being overwhelmed and a complete loss of control.

It’s just a thought, but it can kill you.


The “thought” of me jumping into a lake with an average water temperate of two degrees isn’t particularly what I would call “pleasant.”

I’ve always joked that if my favourite hockey club — my beloved Toronto Maple Leafs — made it to the playoffs, I would indeed plunge into icy waters.

Although, everyone knew I was never actually serious.

As it would turn out, my Leafs are in a playoff race and just about a dozen games away from securing a spot in the NHL post-season.

But this “jump” isn’t about hockey, it’s about so much more.

I was invited a few weeks ago to fundraiser and participate in the “Freezin’ for a Reason Polar Plunge” to support Special Olympics Alberta athletes.

The Team Alberta “WolfPack” (best name ever right?) consists of 97 amazing athletes and they’re all competing right now in the 2020 Special Olympics Canada Winter Games in Thunder Bay, Ont.

For those that don’t know what a “polar plunge” is...

Well... you basically jump in a freezing cold lake for charity.

It’s for a great cause, but it’s just about the stupidest thing I’ve ever done if I’m being brutally honest!

So naturally, I signed up ;) After all, I continue to pay real money to sign up for marathons and put my body through ridiculous pain... how bad could this be?

For weeks I was dreading this day. I kept thinking about the feeling of a hundred needles piercing into my torso as I dived in.

What if I go into shock and my heart stops? What if I crack my head on the ice?

What about.. you know... “shrinkage?” Cue George Costanza... “I WAS IN THE POOL!”

What if the ice freezes over after I jump in and then I’m trapped and then I drown??

Ok.. that last one is impossible, but clearly I was having second thoughts. All of the hypothetical questions I was asking myself were 100 per cent negative.

Mentally I wasn’t in a great space for something like this, but when you separate the difference between “fear” and actual “danger,” you start to gain a new perspective.

I started to think of it in terms of running a marathon. The race for me doesn’t start until 32 kilometres in.

That last 10 kilometres is ran between my ears. It’s about pure mind over matter. My body tells me “no” (actually it’s screaming for me stop), but I press on.

I can’t feel my legs, my muscles start to cramp, I’m dehydrated, and losing my sense of awareness.

All of these thoughts are pessimistic feelings.

Instead, I should be telling myself that “I get to run” today. I’m thankful that I have legs and arms and that I was given this gift to do something I love.

I often say to myself in a race, “just five more miles,” when really I should be excited that “I get” to run those five miles.

The pain at the end of a race is only temporary, but quitting will last forever.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my years of running, it’s that one bad moment doesn’t define me.

As long as I give everything and do my best, I know I can live with the consequences of anything in that race and more importantly, throughout my life.


So there I stood on the ice of Arbour Lake, staring into a nine foot deep pit of all my fears.

The numbness in my toes was starting to set in, my heart began pumping so fast, jolting harder and harder as I took a deep breath.

I grabbed my friend, Travis’ hand for support and I realized that I wasn’t alone.

Courtesy/ Jim Wells

In fact, a few hundred people were watching me do this. The news was there with cameras and the Special Olympics athletes were cheering me on. Most importantly, some of my closest friends and my best friend (my dad), was there to watch me.

I know life for me gets scary sometimes. I panic or get anxious over the littlest things. I get frustrated with where I should be in my life and often put myself down, but I’ve got such a great support system that picks me back up.

So whether I’m running 26.2 miles or freezing my ass off... I know that facing my fears is the only way for me to stay in control.

What’s the difference between fear and danger?

Jump... and you’ll find out.

The moment of no return... (Courtesy/ Jim Wells)

Courtesy/ Jim Wells

Courtesy/ Jim Wells

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