Many students at the University of Richmond enjoyed Saturday's snowfall from the comfort of their on-campus dorms and apartments. Some went sledding on the hill in front of Boatwright Memorial Library, some trekked to the Heilman Dining Center in their water-resistant rain boots and others remained content to wander the grounds and take in the snow-covered sights.
But for 19 Richmond students, the snowfall caused an unpredicted change of plans as they spent their weekend at Virginia Beach.
The InterVarsity Christian Fellowship Beach Retreat has been held every spring semester for many years, typically consisting of two parallel events for men and women. But starting last year, the group decided to merge the retreats into a coed event, said junior Ben Sommerfeld, the IV events coordinator.
Sommerfeld said the planning committee had picked the dates of the retreat - Friday, Jan. 29 to Sunday, Jan. 31 - during the winter break.
"We obviously had no idea what the weather would be," he said.
Even though the retreat was planned for January, Sommerfeld said he still envisioned the Virginia weather would allow people to spend some time outside on the beach.
"We didn't expect it to be swimmable," he said, "but we didn't expect to see snow either."
Sophomore Cameron Lee, one of the speakers at the retreat, agreed with Sommerfeld's expression of surprise.
"When I think about the beach, I think about it being hot," he said.
Junior Meghan Johnson, an attendee at the retreat, said she thought having snow on the beach was really cool.
"You have never really seen anything like it before," she said.
The retreat centered on the theme of rest, with three people speaking about the subject during the weekend's events. Sommerfeld said that after the group had arrived at the hotel on Friday night, they participated in icebreakers; Saturday consisted of a speaker in the morning, senior Brittany Johnston; followed by a speaker later in the afternoon, Jonathan Douthit, the IV campus minister intern.
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Lee provided a summary of the weekend's lessons on Sunday before the group left at 11 a.m. for the drive back to campus.
Throughout the weekend, the group focused on rest in practical ways, such as enforcing the 36-Hour Challenge, Sommerfeld said. The challenge encouraged the attendees to not do any type of schoolwork during the retreat.
"I think I was the only one that broke it," Sommerfeld said with a laugh, explaining that he had a few e-mails to send because of his responsibilities in another group.
Although the snow hampered the original events he envisioned for the group - such as shell collecting and football on the beach - Sommerfeld said the weather ended up helping reinforce the weekend's theme.
"The cold kind of kept us together in a group," he said.
Instead of the beach, the group stayed inside, played board games, watched the Richmond basketball game and drank hot chocolate.
"I'm pretty sure we ran the hotel out of their hot chocolate supply," Sommerfeld said.
Johnson said some people used the hotel's hot tub as another way to stay warm.
"We focused on relaxing indoors," she said. "No one was really stressed about the weather. We just enjoyed staying inside and hanging out."
On Friday night, Sommerfeld and sophomore Zach Russell decided to take an impromptu Polar Plunge into the ocean. Polar Plunges typically involve the participant jumping into the wintery water with just their swimsuit, but because they did not bring them, the men jumped in with just their boxers on instead.
"It was cold enough that in your mind, you're like, 'OK, I need to get out now,'" Sommerfeld said. Some other men decided to take the Polar Plunge on Saturday as well.
Lee said he originally expected to spend more time outside on the beach, and even tried once the snow came, but the high winds ended up thwarting his plans.
"It sounds fun [to have snow on the beach]," Lee said, "but when the wind is blowing at 30 mph sitting inside drinking hot chocolate and playing games is more fun."
Despite the flexibility of the weekend's events, Sommerfeld said getting everyone back to campus did pose some difficulties since students traveled in carpools.
"Everyone is back safely," he said, stressing that fact as most important. "But I think everyone had some sort of adventure."
Although only 1.5 lanes of the three-lane highways were plowed, with the clear lanes often occurring in between the painted lines, Sommerfeld said most cars arrived back in 2.5 hours - a figure close to the typical two-hour estimate.
The hardest part of the trip back was just leaving the parking lot, Johnson said. Many of the cars were surrounded by snow, and the men had to push some cars out of their spots.
"Once we got on the road, it wasn't too bad," she said. "There were some snow barriers on the freeway, which made it hard to pass people."
Coming back to Richmond, the students said they found it interesting to see the campus transformed and a greater amount of snow than expected - the beach received about 6 inches compared to Richmond's 11 inches.
The weather made the weekend a memorable time, Johnson said.
"Everyone thought it was really cool to take pictures of the snow," she said. "It was a good contradiction snow, on the beach."
Contact staff writer Jill Cavaliere at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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