UAA Psychology students make a freezing jump for cancer

Many in the Anchorage area are familiar with the Polar Plunge. The event benefiting the Special Olympics is infamous for the harrowing jump into the freezing Goose Lake that participants must take. In Seward, the Polar Plunge has an even more grandiose counterpart: the Polar Bear Jump, which took place on Saturday, Jan. 16.

For 31 years, jumpers have been raising money for the American Cancer Society, or ACS, an organization that works to research, prevent, and detect all forms of cancer, as well as support those who have it. For seven of those years, psychology professor Robert Boeckmann has been proud to make the plunge.

“I started jumping because I lost my father to cancer back in 2007,” said Robert. “That year I didn’t jump, I was actively grieving. But within a couple years, I’d heard about it, and I thought it would make me feel better to do this work for other people and support families who are facing similar kinds of things.”

Robert is the leader of “UAA is Psyched for a Cure,” a five-member team from UAA’s Psychology department. According to Robert, the Jump fits well with the department’s area of study.

“I’m also a social psychologist, so I engage the students in this kind of activity in part because one topic area in my course is about social or altruistic behavior like giving to the community or giving to others, and this is kind of a way of engaging that in a real world scenario,” said Robert.

Robert is joined by four other students, three of which have never jumped before. All of them have their own reasons for making the plunge. Divina Trevethan is a volunteer for ACS who is also jumping for Boeckmann’s team.

“Doing work in the community is really important to me, and I think cancer is something that affects everybody,” said Trevethan. “Whether or not it’s your own diagnosis, or the diagnosis of a friend or family member, or even if you’re just worried about it. I think a lot of people are worried about getting cancer in the future.”

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Ariel Moilanen, a psychology student and fellow team member, has more personal reasons.

“All three living grandparents have all dealt with cancer in some way,” said Moilanen. “They’ve been pretty lucky. Then I lost an uncle who was pretty near and dear to my whole family to cancer. He was one of the more altruistic people I ever knew.”

Brock Tucker, who could not join the rest of the team for the interview, has raised $2000. Like Robert, he’s been making the jump for a few years now.

Aiden Boeckmann, Robert’s son, has a much more simple reason.

“For me, it’s sort of a family thing,” said Aiden. “He’s done it for seven years, since I was eleven. I’ve wanted to do it pretty much since then.”

This is Aiden’s first eligible year for the jump: minors under 18 are not allowed to make the jump for safety reasons. He hit a big milestone for the team when the Bear Tooth Theaterpub agreed to double his donations at the end of it all. This is the Boeckmann family’s first corporate donation.

Robert assured that while many charities have faced scandals for misappropriating funds, the ACS uses its funds in a responsible manner. Of the $10,215 that “UAA is Psyched for a Cure” has raised, about 75 percent ($7,661.25) of it actually goes to treating, preventing, and educating about cancer. Trevethan, as a volunteer, sees that money go to things like therapeutic classes for patients, among other small things that help make a patient’s life as comfortable as possible.

“The funds go in a lot of different directions,” said Trevethan.

The other 25 percent goes to administration and fundraising costs, and this is an area where the Polar Bear Jump gets a bit extravagant.

“In Anchorage, the Polar Plunge is one little thing in one part of Anchorage. But in Seward, this thing takes over the whole town and everyone is festive,” said Robert.

Robert likened the Polar Bear Jump as more of a mid-winter weekend getaway than the Polar Plunge, with events like a parade or turkey bowling keeping residents involved at a consistent basis. The rest of the team conceded that while the Polar Plunge is a worthy event, they wished more Anchorage residents would give the Polar Bear Jump a look.

While the team has raised a lot of money, they remained anxious about the jump itself.

“I’m not particularly the strongest swimmer, so I already have a game plan of grabbing on to Ariel’s leg, or Brock’s beard or something,” said Trevethan.

Aiden remained confident about the jump, however.

“I’m not actually that nervous,” said Aiden. “I’ve seen him [Robert] do it a bunch of times, and he’s got it all worked out. He knows exactly what to wear and what to bring.”

The jumpers are always accompanied by experienced divers to ensure their safety after they jump. Often, other participants greet jumpers out of the water with towels and other warm accommodations.

As of publication, “UAA is Psyched for a Cure” is the third highest donor for the event, with Robert being the second top individual donor. Overall, the 20 teams have donated a total of $85,147.37. The team relies on friends, families and social media to accrue donations. In the future, they hope to raise even more.