Heartwarming moments flavor Freezing 2016

A HELPING HAND is offered to Jen, who has participated in the Freezing for a Reason fundraisers for about 12 of its 14 years. (De Busk Photo)

A HELPING HAND is offered to Jen, who has participated in the Freezing for a Reason fundraisers for about 12 of its 14 years. (De Busk Photo)

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

Joan McBurnie’s voice began to crack with the weight of emotion as she mentioned her co-worker and self-described animal lover, Genie Blodgett, who died last year.

McBurnie, the Executive Director for Harvest Hills Animal Shelter, talked briefly about the effort of “Team Genie” to honor Blodgett’s memory.

“Genie actually was our individual winner two years ago. Our goal, as a team, was to raise more money than she did,” said McBurnie, who emceed the 2016 Freezing for a Reason fundraiser.

If Genie could grant a wish it would have been to help out all the dogs and cats at the shelter; and that wish really did come true on Saturday.

First, the number of jumpers surpassed those that braved the cold water in previous years, McBurnie said. More than 85 people jumped into the 34 degree water of Highland Lake this year, she said.

Better yet, the total money pledged to jumpers was adding up to more than last year’s total, which was $32,000.

“I kept adding it up in my head, and I know it was more than $31,000,” she said.

“Money is seriously still coming in. I am confident it will exceed $32,000,” McBurnie said excitedly.

Additionally, there were some heartwarming moments during Freezing 2016.

Twin brothers Chris and Adam Madura were celebrating their birthdays. So, Bridgton Animal Control Officer (ACO) Jackie Frye, belted out a version of Happy Birthday to You as the crowd sang along.

McBurnie said she had written down a reminder to lead the Happy Birthday song for the Madura brothers. She spotted Frye nearby and motioned her over.

“I handed the microphone to her. It wasn’t really planned,” she said.

Birthday boy Chris jumped into the lake with the team from the Magic Lantern, while Adam joined the United Way Ambulance team, McBurnie said.

Recognition was given to a woman who has jumped the most times. Jen has been a participant in Freezing for a Reason almost since it began 14 years ago.

“If she didn’t do it the first or second time we held the event, she has done it every time since then,” McBurnie said.

Jen got a helping hand from McBurnie and a cold water rescue volunteer. She needed assistance getting through the shallow water but as soon as it was deep enough to swim, Jen proved to be a confident swimmer.

As the song Don’t Worry Be Happy emitted from the speakers, Jen did a front crawl and switched to the back crawl before being coaxed from the water.

“She swims at the pool. We found that out one year. Even though it was freezing, we couldn’t get her out of lake,” McBurnie said.

On Saturday, the sun shone brightly — making erroneous the weather predictions of rain that afternoon. The beach near Highland Lake looked more like Mud Season than a mid-winter day.

“I think it was our warmest year,” McBurnie said.

“It was really awesome. It was such a beautiful day. Everyone milled around a little longer,” she said.

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