OXFORD — On a day that was supposed to be unseasonably warm and sunny, 52 hardy souls braved the damp, chilly air and the frigid Tred Avon River for the second Oxford Polar Dip on Sunday, Feb. 12.
The noon event at Tred Avon Yacht Club raised more than $13,000 as well as awareness for the nonprofit Camp Sunshine, a cost-free retreat on Sebago Lake in Casco, Maine, for children with life-threatening illnesses and their families.
Funds raised at the Oxford Polar Dip will help send Maryland children and their families to the nonprofit camp during 2017. This year’s dip was on track to send at least five families to camp. “Dippers” pledged to raise $100, so some pledges will roll in after the event, co-organizer John Sutton said.
Last year’s event raised more than $15,000 for six families to attend Camp Sunshine. A family stay costs about $2,500.
Sutton and his wife Dodi, who moved moved to Oxford five years ago, organized the event with a team of local residents and support from the Oxford Business Association.
”The Suttons are just amazing,” said Camp Sunshine’s Executive Director Mike Katz, who came down from Maine to take the plunge. “They took the ball and really ran with it here.”
”Today went amazing well,” Katz said. “The Oxford community really came together to help families facing the challenges of having an ill child. Their kindness and support is very much appreciated.”
The event began with a large crowd of dippers — including “chicken dippers” who went out only up to their knees — and their supporters venturing out from the yacht club’s wide portico into the cold rain that fell intermittently.
Emma Kelley sang the National Anthem followed by Gabe Loesser of Trappe who conducted the countdown.
”It was great,” Gabe’s brother Aiden said as he was warming up after the dip. He said he also liked going to Camp Sunshine with his family.
”It’s fun for everybody,” he said.
”Gabe (who has a brain tumor) epitomizes what Camp Sunshine does for children and their families,” Katz said. “To get away from the challenges, re-group and re-energize for a week.”
One of Gabe’s favorite TV shows is “North Woods Law,” so the Camp Sunshine staff brought in game wardens for Gabe to meet. “You should have seen his face,” Katz said.
Dippers Sen. Addie Eckardt, R-37-Mid-Shore, and Del. Johnny Mautz, R-37B-Talbot, waded out to waist-deep water and then posed for photos.
”It was cold when you get in,” Eckardt said. “Once you step out, it’s like whoa, this is great.”
Four members of the local Coast Guard station paid a visit, and four wetsuit-clad members of the Mid-Shore Dive Team from Preston Volunteer Fire Company stood guard offshore in case of an emergency. Two ambulances stood by.
Oxford Volunteer Fire Company firefighters Tom Ray, Paul Callahan and Doug Macnair, who is also a captain of the Oxford-Bellevue Ferry, anchored their vessel offshore and helped provide a venue for press photos.
The Polar Dip is “humanity at its finest — totally disregarding instinct and reason so that children with life-threatening illnesses and their families may experience the benefits of empathy and encouragement, rest and recovery, and hope and inspiration at Camp Sunshine,” Camp Sunshine spokesman Jason Sulham said.
For a decade, groups across the country have sponsored polar dips for Camp Sunshine, which set a goal to raise $350,000 to send 140 families to illness-specific sessions in 2017.
For more information about Camp Sunshine, visit www.campsunshine.org.
Follow me on Twitter @connie_stardem.