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February 14, 2013

Polar Bear Jump is a leap of love

By Michelle Miller
Cooperstown Crier

---- — It may seem a little crazy to be jumping into an upstate New York lake in the middle of winter, but hundreds of people will be doing just that on Saturday. 

Some say they do it for the adrenaline rush or for the thrill, but most take the plunge because it is for a good cause. 

Organizer Brenda Waters said, “Most do it to help children with illnesses and to be part of a community event.” 

The first jump started in 1996 with 11 participants who jumped just for fun. This will mark the 18th year of the Goodyear Polar Bear Jump, a fundraiser that helps children, individuals and organizations in need.   

Last year’s event brought in more than $100,000, the most money since the jump’s inception, according to organizers. Jamie Waters, who was inspired to start the jump by a similar fundraising event on the St. Lawrence Seaway years ago, said there was a big celebration when hitting the $100,000 mark. The event has been averaging in the $80,000-range the past few years, he said. 

Spectators were asked to stay off the ice and watch from atop an overlooking hill last year because of extremely warm temperatures and thin ice. According to Brenda, even if Mother Nature does cooperate this year, organizers may keep the crowd back from the ice again to keep things more organized. 

“I liked it better that way,” she said. “It scares me when all of those people are down on that ice.”

Brenda said she really is not afraid of not having enough ice for this year’s event, which will kick off at 12:30 p.m. 

“That cove that we are in keeps ice really nice. That is why we moved it (jumping location) from across the lake. We are not on the river there,” she said.   

Last year’s event featured about 275 jumpers and seven or eight teams. Brenda said there are more than 300 participants signed up to jump into the icy-cold water on Saturday. However, she said not everyone always shows up and participation is often determined by weather. 

“A lot of them are repeat jumpers or are in a group that knows what to expect and what to do so it should go fairly quick and easy,” she said. 

The event has never been canceled — not even a couple of years ago when it was wicked cold with whipping wind — probably the coldest day in which the event has been held. 

“I woke up in the middle of the night and I said, ‘Hey Jamie, we need to cancel.’ He was like ‘we can’t, it’s an outdoorsy, winter event,’” Brenda said. “It was insane!” 

Brenda said a lot of people called to apologize for not making it and wanted to know how they could still turn in their sponsor money.   

“Some people were even delayed by hours because the roads were shut down,” she said. “If it is a time like that then you are not going to get all of your jumpers. But if it is a beautiful day, then everybody will show up. It is hard to say.”

Last year, Danielle Cruz jumped with 10 girls who play basketball in Sidney. It was her first time participating and she said: “I decided to do this for the charity part, to raise money. Freezing was not part of the plan of making me want to do it.”

Cruz said she did not know any of the recipients, but felt good about doing something food for others. 

According to Brenda, once someone commits to taking the plunge, he or she typically usually comes back to do it again. 

“Once most do it, they are usually hooked,” she said.

Amanda Augur and her father, Ray, of Cherry Valley, wore matching patriotic suites to last year’s event. It marked the third year the duo have participated in the jump. They said they got involved because a friend was a recipient. 

“We had fun doing it so we continued to make it a yearly thing,” Ray said. “It is all for a good cause.”

Brenda and Jamie’s teenage daughter Mataiah has been participating in the jump since she was 3. 

“Even if my family (members) were not the organizers I think I would still do it,” she said at last year’s event. 

When describing what it is like when one’s body hits the icy-water, Mataiah said the only thing that comes to mind is remembering to swim and getting to the other side to the ladder. 

“You don’t really think about how cold it is at first,” she said.