By Sean Barron
Most people who come into full body contact with 40-degree water likely would have few positive things to say about the experience.
It’s probably a safe bet that “exhilarating” would not be a top pick — though that was John Fleet’s description.
“It was cold, but not really a bad thing,” said Fleet, of Mercer, Pa., referring to his jump into the Shenango River during Sunday’s fourth annual Shenango Polar Bear Jump at Quaker Steak & Lube, 101 Chestnut Ave.
Sponsors were Quaker Steak, Mold Medic of Farrell, Pa., Reformers Unanimous — Sharon, Elite Ambulance and Valley Silk Screening of Sharpsville, Pa.
Temperatures in the high 40s greeted an estimated 125 jumpers who took part in the gathering, the proceeds of which were to go to Joshua’s Haven homeless shelter, 205 Bank Place, Sharon.
Conditions were downright balmy Sunday, compared to those of his first such jump, recalled Fleet, who works for Mercer Forge Corp., a longtime steel-forging business in Mercer.
“The first year, it was 18 degrees, and I couldn’t get my shoes off because the shoelaces were frozen,” he said.
Wearing only a small, light-green bathing suit and tennis shoes, Fleet showed few signs of discomfort after having submerged himself in the freezing river.
So, is this Fleet’s last foray into subfreezing water for the winter? Hardly. He plans to take part in a similar bone-chilling effort next month to raise money for the Lawrence County Habitat for Humanity organization.
Sunday’s jump was Scott Balog’s first, but the experience proved less daunting than he originally thought.
“It was a great feeling,” the Volant, Pa., man and former Marine said as he draped a towel around himself. “The water felt good.”
Balog, dressed in shorts and flip-flops, said cold-weather training he received in the Marine Corps at Camp Pendleton, Calif., likely gave him added insight regarding what to expect for Sunday’s event.
Before the jump, both men participated in an annual Polar Bear bike ride to benefit the Sharon YMCA.
Participants, many in little more than bikinis, shorts, water shoes and headgear, were divided into four groups and spent up to several minutes in the water. Others, however, seemed content to quickly jump in and get out.
Those who took part in the event bought T-shirts and sweatshirts for $10 and $25, respectively, all of which will go toward the homeless shelter, noted Matt Lenzi, who with his wife, Darlene, and niece Tori organized the gathering.
Since opening its doors in February 2009, Joshua’s Haven has served about 340 men and 20 families, noted Sherry Masotto Swetz, founder and executive director.
The eight-bed facility provides on-site temporary shelter for men, helps homeless families find a stable environment and housing and provides emergency shelter. Other offerings include Thursday evening Bible studies, a bread-giveaway program each weekend, life-skills training and case-management services to help clients find jobs, receive health-care coverage and return to being independent, Masotto Swetz explained.
“We’re grateful to [the Shenango Polar Bear Foundation] for choosing us for this event ... and for the money to bless us by their donation as well” she added.
For more information on the shelter, go to www.joshuashaven.org.