by Olivia Bitetti
Just when you think you see a glimmer of hope toward the beginning of spring, you awake to frigid temperatures and more snow to brush off your car. Although we, as Western New Yorkers, are plagued with often unbearably long winters, every year at this time numerous brave members of the community put their dreary thoughts of winter behind them.
Once a year for the past 41 years, residents of the surrounding communities of Newfane join many others from the Buffalo and Western New York areas to willingly dive into the frigid waters of Lake Ontario.
Why would people do such a thing you might wonder? Well, 41 years ago, seven daring members from a bar in the hamlet of Olcott decided to laugh in winter's face as they braved the cold waters of the lake. Surprisingly, the courageous pastime caught on. What soon became known as "Polar Bear Day" quickly became a community-wide event. Vendors, local entrepreneurs and organizations, as well as the Olcott Lions Club, all took part in the event. Gradually, the event landed solely in the hands of the Lions, while founder Michael Rann is still an active member of the Polar Bear Day affair.
The 42nd annual Olcott Polar Bear Day Swim for Sight will be held on Sunday, March 6. It is sponsored by none other than the swim founder, Rann, and the Olcott Lions Club. Tailgating for the event begins at 10 a.m. on the Lake Ontario shores at Krull County Park in Olcott Beach.
Registration this year, a minimum of $20 per swimmer, will be held from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. at the Lions Pavilion in the park. New to this year's swim is the scheduling of access times in 15-minute intervals. Swimmers who receive $100 worth of fundraisers will receive preferred first access. The Polar Bear Queen Contest participants must check-in at the Lions Pavilion in the park at 1:45 p.m. Swimmers under the age of 18 swim at 1:50 p.m., while the Swim for Sight event officially kicks off at 2 p.m.
This event is referred to as Polar Bear Day for a reason: It is freezing out there! While water temperatures are normally in the 30s around this time of year, the wind-chill has the possibility of making the event even colder. Those daring enough to swim are advised to bring a number of necessary items: a pair of sneakers, a towel, a change of clothes and a blanket. Swimmers may have one helper with a wristband to accompany them during the swim. Although you may choose to throw on your favorite swimsuit, feel free to get creative! Last year, there were Wonder Women, hula girls, a pirate and even a few members from the band KISS (in costume, of course).
Drawing thousands of people, young and old, each year, this event is more than just an icy swim in the lake. It includes such community-minded events as the Newfane Lions chowder sale, Gasport Lions hot dog cart, Youngstown Lions Italian sausage sale, Newfane Lacrosse chicken barbecue and other great food options from local establishments in Olcott Beach, which will be available for purchase throughout the day's events.
Having proved to be one of the Lions most successful fundraisers over the years, the event assists such beneficiaries as Canine Helpers for the Handicapped, Guiding Eyes for the Blind, Lions Blind and Charity Fund (Vision Beyond Sight) and numerous other community organizations affiliated with Swim for Sight.
While this event is an entertaining and fun time for all, special rewards will be presented as an added bonus. All swimmers will receive an official Polar Bear Day T-shirt.
Most participants of the event raise their contributions through the help of family members, friends and co-workers. Those able to raise $100 or more will receive a pass entitling them with preferred first access to the beach, as well as a Swim for Sight hoodie. Those who raise $250 or more will be awarded a premium quality jacket with the Swim for Sight logo on it. Those who are able to raise $500 or more will receive a gift certificate.
If you're not too keen on swimming in the icy temperatures, but are still interested in donating, don't worry! Simply bring your donation to the event, e-mail it to [email protected], or mail it to Olcott Lions Club, P.O. Box 316, Olcott, NY 14126.
As always, local police remind the public to be smart about drinking at this event. If you plan on drinking, be safe and designate a driver to accompany you and ensure your safe transportation to and from the event. Police will be present at the event to enforce the state's drinking and driving laws.
The Olcott Lions Club appreciates and encourages your support for this exciting event. So, if you too want to laugh in winter's face, come on out to Olcott Beach on March 6 for food, drinks and some chilly fun.