Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 5:58 PM on Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Memory of cancer-victims inspire 'Polar Bear' fundraisers

By McKibben Jackinsky
Staff writer


Christie Hill

As she has 11 times in the past, Christie Hill of Homer is once again preparing to plunge into the frigid waters of Resurrection Bay.

And all for a good cause.

Hill's icy dip is part of Seward's Polar Bear Jump Off, an annual event supporting the Alaska Division of the American Cancer Society.

It attracts participants from in and outside of Alaska, brings a mid-winter crowd to Seward and has been covered by local, as well as national, news sources.

Hill draws her inspiration to participate from the family members and friends who have battled cancer.

"There are so many. Too many," said Hill.

This year, Hill is particularly mindful of Barbara Lorraine Gregoire of Homer who died in September. Gregoire's daughter, Jamie Gregoire Pennington, also is inspired by her mother's battle with the disease. Although her pregnancy is keeping her from jumping, Pennington is part of a three-person team, Team No. 25, that includes her cousin Tia Lewis and friend Nicole Olender, both from Kenai.

"I'm doing this in honor of my mom," said Pennington. "A lot of people are hit with cancer and it's a rough battle. The more money we can get to support (individuals and families), the better."

Hill has frequently been one of the Polar Bear festival's top fund-raisers. Over the years, she estimates she has raised between $90,000-$100,000. She had set her 2010 goal at $10,000, but a late start preparing for the event means she is scrambling to make up for lost time. Several large donations are helping her reach her target.

"I just got $1,075 from (local dentist) Sue Polis, $500 from American Legion Post 16 and $500 from the American Legion Auxiliary in Fairbanks," said Hill. "Those are the biggest (donations) so far."

Pennington's team is hoping to raise $2,000 and is currently at $1,500. Although she won't be jumping with her cousin and friend, Pennington will be donating her hair during the festival through Locks of Love, a national nonprofit organization that provides hairpieces for children suffering from long-term medical hair loss.

Costumes are frequently part of the plunge's fun. Pennington and her team are still searching for a theme around which they can dress.

Hill is trying to reconnect with two people she met earlier this year that offered their costumes of Sesame Street's telephone guys.

"I can't remember their names, but if they read this they could give me a call," said Hill.

Although costumes don't turn the water any warmer, they do offer some protection from the limb-numbing temperatures of the bay.

Hill has jumped in when the ambient temperature was one degree Fahrenheit and an icy wind drove the wind chill to -27.

On the other hand, she's participated in the midst of heavy snowfalls and one year it was a balmy 45 degrees above zero.

No matter the climate, the reason for jumping remains the same.

"I do it because it helps cancer patients in Alaska," said Hill. "I'll do it until I can't do it anymore."

"It's so harsh," Pennington said of the toll cancer takes on those diagnosed with the disease, as well as their family and friends. "I hope they can find a cure."

To contact Hill with donations or a costume, call 299-1966.

To contact Pennington with donations, call (907) 250-5968.

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben.jackinsky@homernews.com.