Woman Raises Nearly $250,000 for Polar Bear Jump to Fight Cancer

By Kat Sorensen

The article was first published by The Seward Sun on Jan. 25, 2019. It is reprinted here with permission. 

More than 20 years ago, Christy Hill of Homer set off for Girdwood’s Slush Cup but encountered a few problems.

She was months early. And she went to the wrong town.

Hill and a friend found themselves standing along the ramps of the Seward Harbor watching as costumed men and women jumped into the frigid waters of Resurrection Bay.

“We were watching along the ramps and our pants were freezing to our legs, we were freezing,” Hill said. “We thought ‘this is not what we thought it would be at all, but this is fun.’”

As soon as Hill finished the drive back from Seward to Homer, she started fundraising for next year’s event and has been involved in the Seward Polar Bear Jump ever since. Her first jump was in 1999, and this year she’ll be celebrating her 20th year as a plunger.

“My mom is a cancer survivor so when I saw the event, I thought I might as well try it,” she said. “That first year, we all sat on our boat waiting our turn and I was kind of nervous.”

As those torturous moments ticked off, it didn’t help that a diver on hand to assist plungers developed a leg cramp.

“I told my dad, ‘nope, not doing it. No way.’ But the diver got back in the water and so I did it. I jumped,” Hill said. “It was scary, but much less painful and traumatic than anything the cancer patients are going through.”

This year, Hill said she has a longer list of people she’s jumping for including her husband’s adoptive and biological fathers. 

“They both passed away in less of a month of each other,” she said. “That’s a big drive for me. Another friend of mine got cancer last year and is doing great. He is cancer free and back home living his best life … That’s huge of me to see. I want to help find a cure and help families that can’t afford to help themselves.”

The Seward Polar Bear Jump was first held in 1986 and is an opportunity to honor cancer survivors, raise awareness about reducing cancer risk and to raise money for the American Cancer Society.

Fundraisers work all year to raise funds, culminating in a quick jump into the bay on the third Saturday of January. 

This year’s jump on Jan. 26 is surrounded by a weekend of fun and festivities throughout Seward. The main event, the jump, starts at 12:30 p.m. at the Seward Harbor on Saturday.

Jumpers dress up in costumes of all types, and after 20 years Hill’s costume closet has grown to include a Gumby costume, a flirty sailor uniform and more. Her fundraising total has been growing over those 20 years too. 

“I’ve been raising money every year. The first year, I raised $1,055 but was in tenth place for fundraisers,” she said. “I’ve been raising more money every year and I’m close to $250,000.”

Hill has had some donors that have been supporting her every year, including Dr. Sue Polis of Homer, Deb Leisek of Bay Realty in Homer and the American Legion. 

This year, Hill has raised about $5,000. She said she’s excited to see some of her fellow jumpers and spend the weekend partaking in the fun activities in Seward. She’s happy, though, that the weather isn’t too frigid.

“The absolute scariest year was the time it was 27 below zero with wind chill,” she said. “It was so cold, the water was in the mid 30s and I made the mistake of wearing a hoodie. When I got out it pretty much froze to my body. It took a long time to get my clothes off after because it was so heavy.”

For Saturday’s jump, Weather Underground is calling for a balmy 35 degrees with a water temperature at about 43 degrees.

“I love doing it, it’s fun,” Hill said. “People tell me I’m crazy, but what else am I going to do to release the winter blues?”

For those looking to shake off the winter blues with this weekend’s festivities throughout Seward a full schedule can on Facebook at Polar Bear Jumpoff Festival.

Read more local news and events on the horizon The Seward Sun

Seward Polar Bear Jump Festival + Winter Weekends Launch

Join us January 25–27 for a weekend full of winter family fun! In addition to the 34th Seward Polar Bear Jump, we’ve got live music, outdoor recreation, lodging specials, and a variety of community events to enjoy. 
 

Schedule of Events

Friday, January 25
 
7:00 PM
Polar Bear Pool Tournament Fundraiser at the Breeze Inn Lounge ($20 entry)
303 North Harbor Dr. 
 
7:30 PM
Polar Bear Jump auction at Tony’s Bar (benefits the American Cancer Society)
135 Fourth Ave.
 
9:30 PM
Blackwater Railroad live at the Seward Alehouse
215 Fourth Ave. 
 
Saturday, January 26
 
11:30 AM
Polar Bear Jump Parade
Start at 5th & Jefferson; main route is along 4th Ave towards the harbor
 
12:00 PM – 5:00 PM
301 Railway Ave.
 
12:30 PM – 2:30 PM
 
2:00 PM – 4:00 PM
Kids’ Winter Carnival at AVTEC gym, hosted by Seward Parks & Recreation (Kids 8 and under)
519 Fourth Ave. 
 
5:00 PM – 9:00 PM
Oyster Fest at the Breeze Inn
303 North Harbor Dr.
 
8:30 PM
Karaoke at the American Legion
402 Fifth Ave. 
 
Sunday, January 27
 
1:00 PM – 3:00 PM
Locks for Love hair donation at the Breeze Inn Motel lobby
303 North Harbor Dr.

Member Spotlight: Seward Properties

Q&A With Nicole Lawrence of Seward Properties

It’s often said that people make the place, and we couldn’t agree more. Our new spotlight series introduces you to Seward Chamber of Commerce members who make our community an incredible place to live, work and play.

Seward Properties is a Seward-owned real estate company that takes pride in being a contributing member of the community. Since starting in 2013, they have grown to handle sales, property management and vacation rentals in the Seward area.

We recently sat down with Nicole to learn more about the journey she and her team have taken to create and grow Seward Properties.
Owner Nicole Lawrence is celebrating 5 years of Seward Properties serving the community. Photo Courtesy of Seward Properties.

How long have you lived in Seward? What first brought you here?

I first moved to Seward in 2006 to work as a boat captain for the Military Rec Camp. You could say I moved up here for love; I was dating my now-husband, Colby Lawrence, at the time. I had been a boat captain since 1999 and he convinced me to follow him to Alaska to work for a summer. Colby and I weren’t ready to settle down yet, so at the end of that season, we entered the world of yachting and worked around the world as captains on private yachts for three years. Then, in 2009 we received job offers as captains from Tom Tougas at Major Marine Tours and decided we were ready to spend more time in Alaska and to have a stable lifestyle. I figured we would be here for two years at the most, but now we are at about our 10-year mark and I doubt we will be going anywhere else anytime soon.

Tell us about a product or service that you’re particularly proud of.

I am most proud of Seward Properties’ reputation. My team and our clients are amazing and we couldn’t succeed without them. Our company has represented nearly 50% of all the sales transaction in Seward since 2015; plus, we manage over 100 local rentals. It’s amazing to me how the business continues to grow and I have to thank my awesome team and our great community.

What makes your business special or unique? In other words, what are you known for?

Overall I think the friendliness, knowledge and full-time availability of our team really helps us stand apart. Plus the amount of real estate services we offer ensures that we can answer just about any real estate question for any housing situation that exists. Having a full-time staff is great because we work as a team to help each other out and we have cumulative knowledge of the local real estate that we are able to share with our clients. Since our services range from sales to property management and even vacation rentals, we can help buyers and sellers through the transition of renting and becoming buyers. We’ve also assisted sellers from the transition of being a landlord to selling a rental property and re-investing in new properties using 1031 tax exchanges. Even if someone isn’t an active client, we love helping answer tricky real estate questions!

Nicole credits the success of her business largely to her year-round team: (L-R) Allyson, Callie, Nicole and Pamela. Photo Courtesy of Seward Properties.

What would people be surprised to learn about your business or your journey as a business owner?

Most people are surprised to know that I am a boat captain and have been since 1999. I graduated from University of Michigan in 2003 with a degree in business and a degree in science. However, I never really wanted to settle down and get a “real” job…I just wanted to travel around the world on boats. I did that until I was about 30, and then I was finally ready to settle down and unpack my bags here in Seward. Oh and it’s not really business related but I was on Fear Factor and I think that’s pretty surprising to some people!

What advice would you give to a new business owner who is working to build a business like yours?

For people entering into real estate, I would say that you should find a good broker and take a lot of classes. It’s really important that you have good training from someone who has experience. Without sufficient real estate knowledge and someone to ask questions, it’s very difficult to succeed in such a competitive market. Since it is such a word of mouth profession, you need to start out on the right foot and do a good job for every single client. Having a good amount of training, education, and ethical integrity will help ensure your success.

Describe a risk that you’ve taken in your business that paid off.

I think a big risk that I took was building my own building. We used to rent an office space downtown and after a few years I realized that we needed something more permanent and something that was a better long term investment. I found the perfect piece of land and constructed the building where our office now sits, on the corner of Fourth and Madison. We designed it to have rentals to help cover the cost of the construction and it has worked out well. We love our office!!

What is the best compliment your business has ever received?

The best compliment was receiving the Seward Chamber of Commerce’s “Excellence in Profession” Award after opening up my business. I had no idea how I would do when I started my business. I always strive to be ethical, professional and to go above and beyond for my clients. It’s nice to be recognized as a new business because it’s a lot of work getting up and running and building a reputation for yourself.

Tell us about a community member in Seward who you admire.

When I look at what I admire in people, it comes down to three things: they are good-hearted, they go out of their way to help other people and they put time and effort into improving our community. Many people in Seward fit this description, but one that has meant a lot to me is Tom Tougas. I am in Alaska largely because he offered me a job as a captain. Since then, he has been my business mentor and has helped guide my decision-making on numerous occasions. Tom has helped out a lot of businesses in this town in different ways without seeking credit for it. He does it because he enjoys helping our community grow. He’s a great role model.

What do you like most about living and working in Seward?

What I enjoy most about Seward is the sense of community and connection that you get in a small town. The longer I live in Seward, the more I fall in love with the people here and develop strong community ties through volunteer work. Seward is a special place and I don’t know of anywhere in the world quite like it. I consider myself lucky to live here.

Where’s your favorite spot in Seward to unwind?

My favorite place to unwind is with a mug of tea on my living room couch with my husband and dogs. He has been one of my biggest supporters with my business and I respect and value his opinion. Plus, I think dogs are the best therapy after a long day at work.

How do you spend your free time?

I spend my free time with my husband, friends and dogs. Seward is one of the most magical places for outdoor recreation. I enjoy various activities from hiking with my three dogs, skate-skiing on Bear Lake, back-country skiing in Summit Lake, kayaking in Resurrection Bay, picking blueberries, four-wheeling up to Crown Point Mine, to snow machining to the public use cabins for a weekend with friends. This place is incredible in every season and you can usually find me outside.

If your life was a book, what would the title be?

Say Yes to New Adventures

There are so many great wilderness areas to explore around Seward and Kenai Fjords. If you had a free weekend, where would you go?

In the winter, I would ski or snow machine into one of the public use cabins. If it were summer, I would probably be out RV-ing with friends, hiking, or riding my four-wheeler.

Is there anything exciting on the horizon that you’d like to share?

Seward Properties is celebrating the end of our 5th year in business! Our plan for 2019 is to donate 5% of all our net proceeds to the community. We are so thankful for such a supportive community and we want to give back any way we can!

Feature Image: A beautifully designed new office stands tall on the corner of 4th and Madison in downtown Seward. Stop by and say hi! Photo Courtesy of Seward Properties.

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For more information about Seward Properties click here or call 907.312.7660.

Want more information about Seward or our Chamber of Commerce? Call 907.224.8051.