Freezing for a Reason has banner year for newbies

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

Once a year, Joan McBurnie gets to encourage people to do something they are typically warned not to do: Go through the ice and swim in the lake.

On Saturday, the annual Freezing for A Reason polar plunge was held on the shore (and in the water) of Highland Lake in Bridgton. The event is one of the biggest fundraisers for Harvest Hills Animal Shelter, where McBurnie serves as executive director. On Saturday, she took on the role of emcee.

Once the jump starts, it goes quickly.

It took less than half an hour for 72 jumpers to brave the chilly H2O while raising $28,000 for the animal shelter.

The expediency of the Freezing event might be something for which some of the jumpers are thankful. While the air temperatures were close to 40 degrees and the sun was out, the water was still right around 32 degrees.

They don’t call it “Freezing” for no reason.

Many of the jumpers go all out with animal-themed costumes while others stick to the simplicity of swim trunks and a towel.

The winners of the most spirited award were the employees from True North Veterinary Hospital located in Bartlett, N.H.

The group of about eight people dressed as crazy cat ladies — with curlers in their hair, dark-colored lipstick on their mouths and house robes over their swimwear. Tiny toy cats were pinned all over their getups.

“We’re all well-rested and ready to support Harvest Hills,” Dr. Kate Battenfelder said.

“This is our second year in a row. But, we haven’t jumped yet,” Stephanie Macomber said. just in case she turned into a ‘scaredy cat.’

Ross Lieb-Lappen, of South Royalton, Vermont, was the token male in the group.

“I’ve weaseled out a couple years in a row,” he said, tying his shoe and jokingly looking for an opening in the crowd.

McBurnie said 2017 was a banner year for new jumpers. In fact, one woman had decided to participate in Freezing for A Reason only one day prior to the event, she said.

Tony Sansone, of Denmark, was one of those first-timers.

“Yeah, it’s my first time. That’s why I am in group one so I won’t chicken out,” Sansone said.

He was a one of the solo jumpers although he did not say whether he had supporters in the crowd.

Doug Robbins, of Bridgton, used to be one of those supporters on the sidelines. On Saturday, he was questioning his sanity.

“I’ve watched Freezing since it started. I used to hold the towels for my wife,” Robbins said.

Three years ago, he promised a group of family and friends that he would do the polar dip during the year he turned 60 years old. Surprise, it’s here.

“I’d rather be home drinking beer,” he quipped prior to the jump, commenting that the weather was not that bad. Afterwards, while warming up in the hot tub, he said he would stick to holding towels as his show of support for HHAS.

Robbins’ nephew, Jason Ramsdell, of Kingston, Mass., has a half-dozen jumps under his belt.

“This is my sixth time jumping. I came up with friends for my uncle’s 60th birthday. Three years ago, he said he would jump on his 60th,” Ramsdell said.

He participates each year “’cause it’s for a good cause.”

Another woman with that group, Kim Kressler, of Hanson, Mass., said she cannot remember how many times she has jumped. She does Freezing “’cause it’s fun. The whole family gets together.”

McBurnie had many thanks for the family of community members who volunteer their time for the event every year. The Bridgton Fire and Rescue Department has a big presence at the polar plunge. Local companies, Khiel Excavation and Warren Excavation worked together to open the hole in the ice on Friday and remove snow from the beach, McBurnie said.

Nicki Chewning, of Fryeburg, laid claim to being a newbie.

“Well, I am a newly-minted board member so it’s a little bit of obligation,” said Chewning, who raised $1,500 for the shelter.

“In the past, I’ve given money to others to jump,” she said. “This year, it was a last-minute decision. So, next year, I hope to start fundraising earlier.”

“I think I am setting a precedence,” Chewning said prior to the jump.

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