While some Penn State students hide under their covers from the cold, Justin Rosales dives into it — literally.
In November 2009, he started a trek to become one with the cold. Since then, he’s never looked back.
“Being an iceman is about not being a slave to the cold,” Rosales (senior-psychology) said. “People get freaked and they hibernate, but I like being active and outside.”
An iceman is like the Batman of body temperature control –– any person can do it as long as they are willing to train and endure. Being an iceman doesn’t come from a genetic defect or predisposition, but from hard work and dedication.
Rosales said he learned about the concept of an iceman when his friend showed him YouTube videos of the original iceman, Wim Hof.
From that point on, Rosales seized every opportunity he had to experience what it took to be one, starting with getting a job as a dishwasher at a local State College restaurant, The Deli, 109 S. Fraser St.
Over the summer, he had to raise $750 to fund a trip to a Tibetan Monk workshop in California for body control.
Rosales said people don’t think of scrubbing grime off dishes as the best time of their lives, but for him it was — “you get used to it.”
During his trip with the Tibetan monks, who claimed they could sustain freezing temperatures, Rosales said he wasn’t impressed because they were sitting and not being active.
Rosales said they spent much of their time meditating in a Buddhist temple.
“There was a lot of Buddhist practice to it, but I wanted the core of the concept and I wasn’t getting it there,” he said.
After the workshop in California, Rosales decided to go to Poland to visit the man who inspired him to become an iceman: Wim Hof, a man known for climbing Mt. Everest in shorts.
All the Places You’ll go
Like any parents, Rosales’ weren’t keen about his solo international voyage to meet strangers, especially since he had never flown anywhere before. But his father went farther than anyone expected when he bribed Rosales with a free trip to Hawaii if he decided not to go.
Justin Rosales said he never expected Hof to get back to him, but he did and quickly invited Rosales to a spring workshop at his second home in Poland.
When Rosales told his high school friend and college roommate, Ben Calla, he was going to visit the original “iceman” in Poland, Calla (senior-broadcast journalism) said he thought Rosales was joking.
“It’s just a situation where you nod your head and say, ‘Uh huh, yeah, sure, that sounds interesting’ — but then it was a month before his trip, and everything was ready to go,” Calla said. “I mean, the guy he wanted to see climbed Mount Everest in shorts and a T-shirt.”
Before his visit to Poland, Rosales was instructed to start training on his own.
Rosales said training to be an iceman is dangerous, but to succeed you must realize your physical boundaries while exceeding your mental boundaries.
When he started conditioning, Rosales said he would fill buckets of water, salt and ice and submerge his feet and hands into the freezing water. Each subsequent time, he increased the time increments. After he was used to the buckets, he said he upgraded to a bathtub.
Rosales said he also runs in shorts and sandals when it’s snowing outside or there is snow on the ground.
“I’d get calls from my friends saying they saw Justin running down College Avenue without any clothes on when it was snowing,” Rosales’ girlfriend Brooke Robinson said. “That’s Justin for you.”
When he did finally make his way to Poland, Rosales said he was told to jump into a lake, during the winter, into 37 degrees Fahrenheit water –– where they both swam 300 yards from “point to point.”
Rosales said Hof embraced him though they were strangers, and he now views Hof as a second “father figure.” During one trip, Rosales said he and Hof were supposed to climb Mont Blanc in France, but an avalanche changed their plans –– so they drove 18 hours from Amsterdam to Spain to climb a canyon.
When he and Hof went canyoning in Spain, Rosales said they climbed up a mountain without any protective gear.
“I was definitely intimidated by what we were told to do because there was a point where you climb pegs,” he said. “Wim was just like, ‘It’s OK — we can do it.’ A big part was getting over the fear and staying in the moment. ”
Mind over Matter
Before traveling to Poland, Rosales said he jeopardized his entire plan almost as quickly as it had begun.
Rosales said he went for a night run wearing socks and sandals, and 10 minutes into it, he recalled feeling his feet freezing and burning and then nothing at all. At first, Rosales said he battled with the idea of calling for help.
When he finally made the decision to call his roommate and his phone wouldn’t turn on, he ran to Burger King, feet wrapped in torn pieces of his shirt, where he ordered a hot coffee and waited for the feeling to return to his toes.
It is “close calls” like these that cause Calla and Robinson to question Rosales’ mindset.
“I always worry about him, but that’s because I’m a girl and I love him,” Robinson, Class of 2010, said.
Calla said Rosales is crazy for wanting to stick his feet in buckets of ice when they weren’t injured, but he isn’t surprised by his friend’s ambition — Rosales is a “mind over matter” person.
15K of Fame
Both Rosales and Hof registered with Guinness World Records and are trying to break world records, he said.
While Rosales is attempting to break the fastest time running a 5k without shoes on, Hof is trying to run a 10K barefoot in the fastest time, he said. In a book that both Rosales and Hof are co-writing about their experiences as icemen — “Becoming the Iceman” — Rosales hopes people will learn that doing far-fetched things isn’t just for Europeans, but Americans as well.
A Jog in the Cold Day Keeps the Doctor Away
Despite its strangeness, Rosales said people would be surprised by the health benefits the cold has to offer.
Rosales said scientists are conducting studies that show the cold can greatly influence the immune system, reduce the chance of arthritis, cure asthma and increase the flexibility of the vascular system.
Robinson said she sometimes conditions with Rosales because, while it seems odd to others to be running down the road without a shirt on in February, she appreciates the time, effort, research and health benefits that’s behind the conditioning and thinks it’s “pretty cool, no pun intended.”
But recalling an incident where she started to lose her consciousness, Robinson said it’s not for everyone.
“It’s dangerous, but not if you know how to do it,” she said.
That’s Rosales’ take, too.
“I’m not doing the things I’m doing just to do them,” he said. “I’m doing it for the medicinal benefits.”