Share this article

print logo

WNYers splash into icy Lake Ontario in 50th Olcott Polar Bear Swim

OLCOTT — Western New York's winter has included the usual barrage of snow, windstorms, ice craziness and bitter cold temperatures.

Anybody up for a swim?

Hundreds were, for the 50th year, as courageous swimmers of all ages braved the chilly waters of Lake Ontario at Krull Park during the annual Olcott Polar Bear Swim for Sight.

“Exhilarating,” said Robert McDonald, 50, from Lockport, who participated for the 10th straight year. “And it’s for a good cause.”

Event chairman Bill Clark of the Olcott Lions Club said that an estimated 400 participated Sunday, which has been about the average for the last few years.

The event is a Lions Club fundraiser to assist the blind and visually impaired and typically raises $15,000 to $18,000, a total which Clark said this year's event appeared poised to reach again.

Hundreds more gathered for the event, watching as participants descended the stone steps from the park to the lakefront, many of them wearing costumes ranging from the imaginative to the outrageous. McDonald was dressed up as a professional wrestler, complete with a championship belt, with the most appropriate of nicknames for the day's events: “Stone Cold” Steve Austin.

Participants stripped down to their bathing suits on the snowy shoreline and entered a specially dug-out pool close to the shore with plenty of emergency responders on hand. There were no reported injuries, according to Clark.

Here's a look at the first adults to head into the water; this group headed in first because they were among the top fund-raisers for the event:

The 50th annual swim was marked by Saturday night’s Polar Eve Snow Ball, attended by a sellout crowd of 300 at the Olcott Fire Company’s banquet hall. The Olcott Lions honored the family of the late Mike Rann, who founded the swim, as well as the local fire companies who help make the event possible each year.

One of the most veteran participants of the swim is Tim Durfy, who swam Sunday for his 43rd straight year.

“Never missed a year,” the 62-year-old from nearby Terrys Corners said on a day where temperatures hit 30 degrees.

“You know what, I normally like it when it’s a lot colder, that way the water feels warmer,” he cracked.

“I started in 1976 because I was asked to … now I just do it because I’m stupid,” he smiled, “and to raise money for the Lions Club. It breaks up the winter. For me, it's officially spring tomorrow."

Many participants used the buddy system. For Olcott native Katie Dean, 24, who wore appropriate blue lipstick and eyeshadow as part of a mermaid outfit during her first swim, it helped that friend Liz Driscoll, 32, of Middleport, was waiting on the shore.

“Keeping her warm, holding all the dry clothes, supporting her," Driscoll said. "You can’t come down here just single doing it, you’ve got to have some support system."

Katie Dean, left, swam while friend Liz Driscoll was on hand to help. (Keith McShea/Buffalo News)

Another first-timer was Megan Snell of Lockport, who said she did the swim "because adventures," while it was the sixth straight for sister Kayla.

"It's Buffalo, we're crazy — this is just another day," said Kayla Snell.

Stacey Enseleit, 35, of Newfane, took part for the 10th straight year alongside brother Jason, 30.

"We started doing it with the family, and it just became a tradition," said Stacey Enseleit. "It started just on a whim. It was like a bet: 'You can't do that.' Oh, yes, I can. It's like a major adrenaline rush."

"It's just fun," said Jason Enseleit. "And it’s not as bad as people think … once you get in."

“Superman” was among those who steeled the chunks of ice floating in frigid waters. Frank Harris, 48, of Williamsville participated for the 28th year, the last eight years donning the superhero cape and costume.

"I started out with the Hulk, but then I couldn't find a Hulk suit that was big enough, so I ended up turning to Superman," Harris said. "I love doing it. It's a lot of fun.”

He and his daughter raised $600 this year after donating $500 last year.

“It's for a good cause and that's why we come here every year. More people should come out — it means more donations."

Story topics: / / / / / / / /

There are no comments - be the first to comment