Share this article

print logo

Planners, participants hope for sunshine for annual Polar Bear Swim

OLCOTT – Busy organizers, jovial tailgaters and shivering participants all will be hoping for sunshine for the Olcott Lions Club’s Polar Bear Swim for Sight planned for next Sunday on the shores of Lake Ontario at Krull Park.

Festivities for the 47th annual event begin at 10 a.m. with tailgate party parking and the Firefighters’ Tug of War.

Registration for the swim is held from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., with the Firefighters’ Chili Cookoff planned for 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The Polar Bear Queen contest is set for 1:45 p.m., with check-in, at the Lions Pavilion in the park.

The Swim for Sight officially begins at 2 p.m., with access times scheduled in 15-minute intervals. Those raising $100 or more in pledges get preferred first access.

And while there has never been a Polar Bear King contest, William J. Clark, the event’s chairman, said that Tim Durfy has long held the unofficial title.

Clark said Durfy, owner of Durf’s Tire and Auto Repair in Gasport, will participate in his 40th consecutive fundraising swim next Sunday.

“He’s quite a fixture,” said Clark. “He’s been a good sport and he’s been good about getting others to participate. He’s been unofficially anointed the king.”

“Durf” as he is known, has another take on it.

“Some just call me continuously nuts,” said Durf, who described the event as “the beginning of summer for me.”

“Sometimes, it’s 65 degrees and we’re sitting there putting suntan lotion on and other times it’s 5 below (zero) and a snowstorm is blowing in from the north,” he said. “I have to do something or I get bored. I snowmobile, I’m president of the Terry’s Corners Fire Company and I race cars at Lancaster. I guess I don’t mind being outside.”

Clark said organizers try to encourage participants to increase their pledges from year to year.

“We have a $25 minimum contribution, but we try and see if people can get that up to $100,” he said. “We had fewer swimmers last year because of the weather, but we still did pretty well, because we do have some swimmers who raise over $1,000 each.

“We’ve made as much as $25,000, but the norm is around $15,000 to $18,000 each year,” Clark said. “More people always come out if it’s a nice, sunny day, so we’re hoping for some better weather – a first taste of spring.”

Funds raised help a number of Lions Club-related causes, particularly for those with sight impairment, Clark said, as well as numerous local organizations, like volunteer fire companies, Niagara Hospice and youth organizations.

Participants are urged to arrive early and submit their registration and donations at the Lions Pavilion in the park. Forms may be found at or preprinted, but all swimmers must still check in on the day of the swim.

In addition, area Lions clubs and other not-for-profit organizations sell a wide variety of refreshments at the swim.

“Some people come for the Newfane Lions Club’s chicken chowder and some come for the Newfane Women’s Lacrosse team’s barbecue,” said Clark. “Some don’t come to swim, they come to walk the streets and sample the food. There’s a fair amount of activity here that day.”