New Kingston residents take icy plunge to help raise funds for Polar Bear Jump

By Julia Green
For most people, winter has lost its luster by mid-February. Patience with the cold has worn thin, the beauty of the snow has waned, and people look forward to the pending bloom of spring. Two New Kingston residents, however, opted to immerse themselves in the frigid cold of winter one more time. Literally.
New Kingston residents Joyce and Jim Gray were two of 348 participants who dove from ice platforms through a rectangular hole cut through 18 inches of ice and into the freezing water of Goodyear Lake in Milford on Saturday. The Polar Bear Jump, an annual event, is held with the goal of raising money for community members in need. This year’s plunge, the 14th consecutive since the event’s inception in 1996, raised $55,000 and event organizers anticipate that total funds will surpass last year’s total of $60,000 once additional donations are added to the total.
“It was just something different,” Jim Gray said on Monday. “Joyce always wanted to do it, and we usually catch it after it happens, but this year she happened to catch it before the event.”
While Gray said the anticipation wasn’t as daunting as one might expect, once they were up on the ice blocks, reality set in.
“You really don’t think much about it until you get up on the ice and think, ‘OK, I guess we have to go,’” he said. “And there’s no word describing when you hit that water.”
Despite a bright and sunny forecast, water temperatures in the lake on Saturday were a chilly 33 degrees; a mere two degrees colder than the air temperature.
“It was a beautiful day,” Gray said. “But you’re in the water and you’ve got to swim about 30 feet. We thought we were in the water about a minute or a minute and a half, but we had asked someone to videotape it and it turns out we were only in for about 15 seconds. But it felt longer.”
To participate in the event, jumpers must secure a minimum of $20 in sponsorship. This year’s beneficiaries of the funds raised at the event include four children suffering from various health problems and illnesses, a Portlandville woman with multiple sclerosis, the Portlandville Methodist Church, Catskill Area Hospice and the Milford Fire Department.
The Grays raised over $700, thanks largely thanks to members of the Margaretville community and specifically members of the Margaretville Methodist Church.
“[The atmosphere] was very upbeat and a lot of crying when they gave the money,” Gray said. “This is the 14th year and it started with just 11 people having fun. It’s a very organized event and you hand in the money in the morning when you get there and then at 6 p.m. when they have the ceremony, they hand people the checks. They don’t keep anything, it all goes to those people, and that’s the nice part of it.”