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Big crowd braves frigid Lake Erie to take the Polar Plunge

For Chad Snyder of North Tonawanda, the icy waters of Lake Erie were the best — and worst — part of Saturday's Polar Plunge to benefit the Special Olympics.

Snyder dove head first into the 47-degree water and surfaced to an even colder 39 degrees. He lost his shoe. He went back in for it and lost the other one, too.

"I thought I'd never make it back to the beach," he said.

In other words, he can't wait to come back again next year.

When all was said and done, he and about 1,000 other Polar Plunge participants had raised $187,272 for the Special Olympics New York athletes in Western New York. The 12th annual event is the sports training organization's premier fundraiser, where Special Olympics athletes and their supporters brave the elements together to take a frigid dip for a good cause.

Snyder, a retired Special Olympics athlete, worked for weeks on his Hulk Hogan costume, with help from staff at Western New York Developmental Disabilities State Operations and Offices, including Brendon Crimi, who joined him in the water dressed as Macho Man Randy Savage.

Other swimmers got just as creative.

Brian Deck, an employee at National Fuel, came with a group dressed to the nines in circus regalia. Designated strongman, he wore a one-shouldered, cheetah-print onesie, carried a barbell and sported a handlebar mustache. He was joined by some clowns, a contortionist, an elephant and tamer, and popcorn vendors.

Adam Lawrence, of West Seneca, makes one last reflection before entering the cold Lake Erie waters during the 12th annual Special Olympic Polar Plunge. (Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News)

It was Deck's sixth time participating and "not that bad," especially compared to the year he took the plunge in 17-degree weather.

"They were breaking up ice just so we could get in," he said. "Today, the worst part was walking down there dressed like this."

Darnell Bishop, a junior at Cheektowaga High School, wasn't so nonchalant but, then again, it was his first time. He clutched a lightsaber, hoping to film a viral video he'd scripted ahead of time.

"It was so cold I ran out and had to convince myself to go back in and do it," he said.

Also spotted in the water were Green Man, pirates and Santa; plus Zubaz and Speedos galore. Keeping everyone safe in the water were 41 rescue divers and another 25 uniformed officers on the beach.

Swimmers jumped in fast and loud, and most hurried out, shivering and subdued by the chill on their way out of the water.

"I need my girl to help me put my socks on," Bishop said. "My muscles are moving really slow."

Still, some swimmers lingered in the water; posing for photos, high-fiving rescue personnel, splashing and running victory laps.

A team of friends from the University at Buffalo had some advice for newbies: Train ahead of time with cold showers. Place your towels strategically in advance. And Crocs are a must.

Claire Breslin, a sophomore studying linguistics at UB, may not have gotten that memo. She padded across the parking lot in wet, bare feet and dripping hair.

"Pro tip: Don't wear flip-flops," she said.

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