NEW FRANKLIN: Lee Maynard couldn’t jump this time around, so his wife and friends plunged into the frigid waters of Turkeyfoot Lake for him.
“They jumped for me,” said the 49-year-old Green resident, who is recovering from prostate cancer surgery.
Maynard, an experienced jumper, grinned as his wife, Roxanne, and family friend Wendy Miller, shivered in the cold Saturday afternoon, their hair wet from their icy splash at the 12th annual Polar Bear Jump.
Minutes before, the two first-time jumpers had joined a parade of hearty souls — young and old — to take the plunge at the fundraising event organized by the Portage Lakes Polar Bear Club.
In addition to bathing suits, attire included tutus, superhero and pirate costumes, as well as shorts and T-shirts.
“This was something I’ve thought about doing for years,” said Miller, 55, of Coventry Township.
Miller, who works at a Starbucks, was glad she finally jumped: “I lost my breath for a couple of seconds, but it was awesome.”
In all, there were 700 jumpers Saturday who jumped into an area cut out of the frozen surface of the lake at Portage Lakes State Park.
The event raised $110,000 — the largest amount in the jump’s 12 years — that will go to the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank. Each year, the money goes to a designated charity, with the food bank receiving the money every other year.
The number of participants was down from last year’s 850, when air temperatures were in the 40s. This year, jumpers were greeted with temperatures hovering around 28 degrees — a heat wave considering recent temperatures — and spitting snow.
Lee Maynard’s wife, Roxanne, and friends wore red T-shirts — emblazoned with a picture of a blue ribbon for prostate cancer awareness for the event. They raised $1,000 for the food bank.
Their T-shirts proclaimed “I Will Win” with the blue ribbon — adorned with eyes and a mouth — giving a middle-finger salute.
“It’s to prostate cancer,” explained Lee Maynard, a crane operator. “My doctor said to keep a positive attitude.”
Employees of the Akron-headquartered FirstEnergy Corp. were the first to jump, having raised more than $26,000 of the $110,000, said Rhiannon Stevenson, 34, a supply chain specialist at FirstEnergy, who was the first in the water.
She and other FirstEnergy employees wore yellow safety vests and hard hats as they paraded to the jumping area, where a polar bear mascot hung out with event organizers — members of the Polar Bear Club.
A total of 40 jumpers from Ohio personal injury law firm Kisling, Nestico & Redick LLC raised more than $25,000.
This was the third year that the law firm’s employees jumped as a team.
“I think you forget each time until you jump in how cold it is,” said Brandy Brewer, 33, director of operations. “It’s for a good cause and it’s really great team building.”
Anthony Serpette, 42, of Akron’s Firestone Park neighborhood, was only wearing a bathing suit and blue plastic lei at 1:45 p.m. — 15 minutes before the jumping began at Turkeyfoot Lake. Many waited until the last minute to shed outerwear.
“I’m ready,” said Serpette, who works in information technology at the University of Akron and raised more than $200. “I figured I just would get in the mood. It’s only going to get colder, embrace it.”
Jackie Martin, 23, a waitress from New Franklin, was among the first-timers. She wore a Hulk costume over her bathing suit.
“Peer pressure,” she said when asked why she decided to take the plunge. “And it’s for a good cause.”
She was jumping with Team Tonix, named for the bar on South Main Street in Coventry Township where her mother works. The team raised $1,000.
More than 4,000 people have made the jump in the past 12 years, raising about $600,000 for local charities.
“We are a hearty breed in Northeast Ohio,” said Jeff Fulkman, 63, of Coventry Township.
Fulkman and his wife, Debbie, helped to found the jump in 2004, with their neighbors Kelly and Heather Pariso, who live in Coventry Township.
The first jump was the Pariso’s backyard, when 70 jumpers raised roughly $13,000 for Akron Children’s Hospital.
Katie Byard can be reached at 330-996-3781 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can become a fan on Facebook at www.facebook.com/KatieByardABJ.