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Deep Freeze Dippers raise funds for swimming program during Worthington's Winterfest (with photo gallery and video)

Dena Leach jumps into Worthington's Lake Okabena Saturday during the Deep Freeze Dip as part of Winterfest 2013.2 / 4
A large crowd lines up on the shore of Lake Okabena to watch the Deep Freeze Dip Saturday afternoon at Worthington's Sunset Park.3 / 4
Jason Kellen of Adrian raised more than $3,000 from the sponsors listed on his shirt. Kellen was the top individual fundraiser for the year.4 / 4

WORTHINGTON -- With the temperature hovering around the 10-degree mark, it was hardly an ideal day to take a dip in the waters of Lake Okabena. Yet, on Saturday afternoon, 47 stalwart souls did just that in order to raise money for a worthy cause.

The 2013 Deep Freeze Dip, in conjunction with Worthington's Winterfest celebration, involved a quick plunge through a hole in the lake ice for those who were brave -- or foolish? -- enough to give it a try. All the jumpers had an incentive of raising funds so that area second-graders can have the opportunity to learn how to swim in the much more temperate climate of the Worthington Area YMCA pool.

As of dip time Saturday, the event had come up just short of its goal of raising $25,000 for the Jami Cummings Learn to Swim program, with donations continuing to roll in. The program was initiated after Jami saved two people from drowning in Lake Okabena. This is the second year the swimming program has reaped the rewards of the Winterfest event, with previous years' funds going to the local Honor Flight program.

"We figure that will provide three years of funding for the program, and then we can go ahead and apply for grants and get it worked into the school curriculum," explained Jami's husband, Chad Cummings, who served as master of ceremonies for the event, as the swimmers prepared for their ascent into the 34-degree water. "You're now part of having raised over $120,000 the last four years."

This year, almost half of the money raised was due to a challenge issued by YMCA Executive Director Andy Johnson to one of his employees, C.J. Nelson.

"We were sitting in a meeting, and Andy said, 'There's no way I'm jumping,'" related Nelson just prior to jump time on Saturday. "I said, 'What would it take to get you to jump?' and he said, "If you guys raise $10,000, I'll do it.' So we made that happen. But he said it had to be first-time jumpers and people who said yes to me, not people who just showed up."

Nelson recruited about 25 individuals to take the plunge by saying, 'If you'll jump, Andy will jump."

One of those people was Kelly Nickel, who works at Worthington Middle School.

"C.J. talked me into it," she said, "and I'll try anything once. But now I'm ready to get it over with."

Another of Nelson's recruits, Jason Kellen of Adrian, raised $3,150.

"There are a lot of generous people over in the Adrian area that I have to thank," said Kellen, who created a special T-shirt with the name of all his donors on the back. "I wanted to help C.J. out, but also my son was a second-grader last year, so he got the swimming lessons because of this."

Another first-time jumper, Carl Nagel, cited similar reasons for daring the depths of his hometown lake.

"I wanted to give back to my community, I guess, for everything that it has given to me," said Nagel, who has two young sons, Lincoln and Sully. "They didn't know what to think about it. Lincoln said, 'Why would you do that?' and I told him it was to help kids learn to swim so they don't drown."

Jami Cummings was the first person in the pool on Saturday, wearing a T-shirt that said "Freezin' for a reason" on the front and "Yep, That's Cold" on the back. Her garb was just the tip of the iceberg (pun intended) when it came to Deep Freeze fashion.

Local Burger King owner Chad Nixon came dressed as his restaurant's mascot; there were several Vikings football jerseys that got wet, and one jumper even donned a Superman cape with matching boxer briefs. Pastor Jonah Beckermann, sporting a bright orange hunting vest with matching triathlon swim cap, yelled "Baptists are not wimps" as he entered the icy pond. The best-dressed award would have to go to YMCA board member and attorney Andy Titus, who came dressed for work in a suit, tie and dress shoes.

And for YMCA director Johnson, the day's apparel was appropriately a T-shirt promoting his own organization. He balked a bit before making his jump, but reported later that his trepidations were mostly unfounded.

"I was expecting worse," he said. "Not that it wasn't bad. But now I feel great. We'll see later on what my joints feel like. When C.J. went on this mission and got all these people to do this, I couldn't back out, and we really believe in this program."

Worthington Winterfest also included an ice-fishing tournament, pond hockey tournament and a walk-run event. Emily Williamson, daughter of Jeff and LouAnn Williamson and a sophomore at Worthington High School, was crowned 2013 Snow Queen.

Daily Globe Features Editor Beth Rickers can be reached at 376-7327.

Beth Rickers

Beth Rickers is the veteran in the newspaper staff with 25 years as the Daily Globe's Features Editor. Interests include cooking, traveling and beer tasting and making with her home-brewing husband, Bryan. She writes an Area Voices blog called Lagniappe, which is a Creole term that means "a little something extra." It can be found at  

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