RESTON, Va. – It is the middle of winter. A frozen lake is surrounded by an excited crowd. Batman, giant sharks and young women in bikinis are standing in line waiting to jump into the ice cold water.
That is what Lake Anne looked like on Saturday when the eighth annual Freezin’ for a Reason – the Virginia Polar Dip – took place.
It is one of nine polar dips that take place on the East Coast every year to benefit Camp Sunshine, a retreat for children with life-threatening illnesses and their families. The event started in 2008, and more than a thousand people have participated since then. The goal is to raise $350,000 this year for Camp Sunshine.
A week-long camp session costs about $2,000. The money raised will be used to help families from the Mid-Atlantic area attend the camp.
Tammy Sankner 44, who works in medical billing, and her daughter Tara, of Fairfax, Va., took the dip. They were part of a group formed for the jump – Moms and Dads of Cancer Kids. Tara was diagnosed with brain cancer In February 2013. This was their first time at the polar dip.
“I decided to do it with a bunch of other cancer moms and dads to show our kids we’d do anything for them,” Tammy said.
Tara’s tumor has grown, and she will start treatment next week, just a few days after her 10th birthday.
Lake Anne’s Freezin’ for a Reason is organized by Gail and Bill Toth. Their daughter, Jennifer, was diagnosed with a rare liver cancer when she was 2 years old. They went to a session at Camp Sunshine after the end of Jennifer’s treatment and have returned as volunteers ever since.
Jennifer, now 21, is a senior at the University of Pennsylvania and hopes to become a pediatric oncology nurse. She said Camp Sunshine is import in helping families know they are not alone. It also represents an “escape from hospital routines,” she said.
This year at least 338 people took the icy plunge. Participants had to raise money to sponsor their jump. The goal was to raise $100,000.
“It was amazing thinking about how many people were there supporting the event. … It was just a lot of fun,” Jennifer said.
Gail said there were 90 more jumpers this year than last.
“It’s amazing and inspiring to see how much it’s grown. Everybody is generous with their time, fundraising, jumping. … Everybody wants to help,” she said.
The Toths took the final jump of the day. Before they splashed into the cold water to applause from the crowd, they learned the event had collected $111,000.
“I was overcome with emotion,” she said.
Reach reporters Alicia Alvarez at [email protected] or 202-408-1489 and Tori Knueven at [email protected] or 202-408-1492. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire. Like the Scripps Howard Foundation Wire interns on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
Download photos: Freezin.zip