Preview of ‘Freezing for a Reason’ event

By Dawn De Busk
Staff Writer

A love for animals was the push that Limerick resident Genie Blodgett needed to jump into Highland Lake in the middle of January two years ago.

CHILL FOR A GOOD CAUSE — The annual Freezing for a Reason, a benefit for Harvest Hills Animal Shelter, is this Saturday, Jan. 22 at 1 p.m. at Bridgton’s Highland Lake.

“Everything you do matters, whether it’s doing this polar dip, or cleaning a litter box, or volunteering at an animal shelter and cleaning the dogs’ pens. Nothing you do for an animal is too little for them. They are so appreciative and full of unconditional love,” Blodgett said.

The primary fundraiser for Harvest Hills Animal Shelter (HHAS), the “Freezing for a Reason” polar dip, takes place at 1 p.m. Saturday at Highland Lake Park. Registration begins at 11:30 a.m., and pre-registered people are encouraged to show up by 12:30 p.m. to get paperwork in order before jump time.

Blodgett said her “Freezing for a Reason” experiences keep getting better. In recent weeks, her excitement level about doing the dip has been building to tsunami proportions.

“The first time, I was really nervous because I’m not a big water person and it was so cold that day. It actually went really well. I raised a few dollars, and felt really good about it,” she said. The following year, after taking the plunge and raising even more money than the first time, she still wanted to do more for local animals. So, she called the shelter about its needs, and started volunteering for HHAS almost immediately. In September 2010, the volunteer time turned into a full-time job with the facility.

On jump day, Blodgett’s adoration of animals manages to override her fear of being cold and wet.

“ ‘How cold it will be?’ does go through my head. But, the fact that I was able to do it the first time gave me confidence. So, the second year it was easier,” she said.

“This year, I’m looking forward to doing it. People who have pledged in past years have been asking me when it’s coming up. Friends are saying they will be coming to cheer me on. I might even get enough people to do ‘the wave’ when I jump,” Blodgett laughed.

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SATURDAY’S EVENTS
8 – 10:30 a.m., Pancake breakfast, Congregational Church, South High Street.
9 a.m. – 3:30 p.m., Mushers Bowl Dogsled Races & Skijoring, Five Field Farms, Route 107, South Bridgton, free with Winter Carnival Button.
9 a.m. — 4 p.m., Ping Pong tournament, Bridgton Town Hall, North High Street.
9 – 11 a.m., Mid-winter Massacre dodge ball, Bridgton Academy.
10 a.m. — noon, Snowshoe hike up Bald Pate Mountain, led by Loon Echo Land Trust, free with carnival button, snowshoes provided – if needed.
10 a.m. — 3 p.m., Horse-drawn carriage rides, Highland Lake Park, free with button
10 a.m. – 2 p.m., Ice fishing contest for children 16 years old or younger, Highland Lake, free with button.
10 a.m. – 4 p.m., Snowmobile rides offered by Bridgton Easy Riders Snowmobile Club.
11 a.m., Registration opens for “Freezin’ for a Reason” polar dip, Highland Lake Park.
1 p.m., “Freezing for a Reason” polar plunge fund-raiser for Harvest Hills Animal Shelter, Highland Lake.
11:30 a.m. — 2 p.m., Mason’s Chowder Festival, Mason’s Hall, Route 117.
2:30 – 4 p.m., Nature Hike at Pondicherry Park, led by naturalist with Lakes Environmental Association, meet in the parking lot by Magic Lantern, snowshoes provided, free with carnival button.
4:30 – 6:30 p.m., Sing and ski with WBZ at après ski party, Shawnee Peak.
5 – 6:30 p.m., Baked bean supper hosted by Bridgton Lions Club, St. Joseph’s Church, South High Street.
8 p.m. to midnight, Dance, Bridgton Town Hall, North High Street. Event sponsored by Bridgton Community Complex.
SUNDAY’S EVENTS
9 a.m. – 2 p.m., Mushers Bowl Dogsled Races and Skijoring, Five Fields Farm, Route 107, South Bridgton, free with button.
10 a.m. — noon, Snowshoe hike up Bald Pate Mountain, free with button, snowshoes provided.
3 p.m., Mushers Bowl Awards Ceremony and supper, Five Fields Farm, Route 107, Dinner hosted by South Bridgton Congregational Church at Five Fields Farm.

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According to HHAS Executive Director Joan McBurnie, the money raised from the 2010 “Freezing for a Reason” helped to pay for sprinkler-system installation.

“So, we have a state-of-the art sprinkler system, which means if there was a fire at the shelter, the animals would not perish,” McBurnie said. “I don’t have another project in mind. Right now, this years’ fundraiser will go toward the care of the animals. We have been seeing a lot of surgeries needing to be done on both dogs and cats.”

“With the economy, donations are down. In the past someone gave $50 each year, and now they can only give $10. It’s what people can afford – it’s a tough time,” she said. “So, this fundraiser really counts.”

As of Tuesday, 54 people had pre-registered for the teeth-chattering splash, according to McBurnie, adding it is difficult to predict how many jumpers will sign up at the last minute.

“You just don’t even know. I’ve had 12 people pre-registered, and ended up with 50 jumpers. Last year, we had 62. One year, Bridgton Academy’s basketball team showed up as a group and jumped in,” she said.

“Paris Farmers’ Union is a big sponsor of the event. I am hearing through the grapevine they have a team that might be jumping,” McBurnie said.

The pre-registration is offered so the shelter can make sure there are enough “Freezing for a Reason” sweatshirts to go around.

“It’s hard as a nonprofit. We can’t afford to order too many sweatshirts. But, we want enough sweatshirts for everyone who jumps. So, if you decided you wanted to jump in and give us a $100 on Saturday morning, you’ll get a sweatshirt – it just might not be your size,” she said, adding surplus sweatshirts are sold to the public.

McBurnie said it’s important for pre-registered jumpers to show up by 12:30 p.m. to sign waivers and turn-in participant fees.

“Last year, some folks who were pre-registered showed up five minutes before the polar dip was scheduled to start. We ended up starting the jump late because we had waivers for them to sign, and paperwork to process,” she said.

Meanwhile, Blodgett doesn’t plan to be late for the “Freezing for a Reason” event, or miss the chance to make a big splash with her third polar dip.

“It is a polar dip. Anytime, you have to cut away the ice to get to the water, it should be called a polar dip. When I see on TV people who jump into the ocean during the winter, I think that’s a piece of cake compared to icy Highland Lake,” Blodgett said.

“Yeah, it’s cold. It’s energizing. It’s a natural high. And, it helps out animals,” she said.

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