Tradition continues for Olcott Lions
by Alicia Wainwright
Each year around this time for the past 42 years, brave members from communities throughout Western New York have laughed in the face of winter and willingly jumped into the frigid waters of Lake Ontario for a good cause.
And tradition continues. This year's Olcott Lions Club Swim for Sight will take place on Sunday, March 4.
The fundraiser helps such beneficiaries as Canine Helpers for the Handicapped, Guiding Eyes for the Blind, Lions Blind and Charity Fund, and numerous other charities that are associated with the Olcott Lions and Lions International.
The parking areas will open at 10 a.m. on the Lake Ontario shores at Krull County Park in Olcott Beach for a tailgate party that occupies much of this little village and continues until the end of the event at 4 p.m. Registration for the swim opens at 11 a.m. and runs until 2 p.m. Then the real fun begins.
At 1:45 p.m., the always-popular Polar Bear Queen contest gets under way. Check-in takes place at the Lions Pavilion in the park. New this year will be a women's changing area found at the rear of the registration area.
Swimmers under age 18 will have first chance to jump into the water at 1:50 p.m., and at 2 p.m. the 43rd annual Swim for Sight officially begins. The beach area will be limited to registered swimmers and a designated helper. Crowds are expected to be heavy and access times for swimmers are being scheduled in 15-minute intervals, based on the amount of an individual swimmer's donation.
Swim for Sight is a tradition that dates back to 1968 when a few men at a local bar, known at the time as Mike's Black Stallion, were boasting of their ability to scoff at the harshness of winter. They were dared to jump into Lake Ontario to prove they weren't all talk. Bar owner and long-time Olcott Lions member Michael Rann saw an opportunity to assist Lions programs. The winter swim continued to grow in popularity over the following years and later became known as "Polar Bear Day." It was not until 1998 that the Olcott Lions Club started to keep records of the swims and adapted a similar format as walk-a-thons. That is, all swimmers must seek sponsors and contributions. The event has grown in size from the seven daring men in 1968 to about 1,000 swimmers annually today.
Venders, local entrepreneurs and organizations and the Olcott Lions Club all participate in making the event all that it can be. Hot food and beverages will be provided by organizations such as the Newfane Lions chowder sale, Gasport Lions hot dog cart, Youngstown Lions Italian sausage, Newfane Lacrosse chicken barbecue, along with great foods at area establishments.
Despite this year's unusually mild winter weather by Western New York standards, this winter has also been unpredictable, and they do call it a Polar Bear swim for a reason. The Lake Ontario water temperature is now in the mid-30s; air temperature will most likely be in the low-to-mid 30s and with the wind-chill it'll feel much colder. So the Olcott Lions ask all swimmers to take precautions and be prepared. All swimmers should bring dry clothes to change into, as well as sneakers, towels, and blankets.
Safety for swimmers and participants is a first priority, but a second priority is to have fun! Swimmers and spectators are encouraged to wear costumes at the event. Last year's Swim for Sight welcomed participants dressed as KISS members, hula girls, leprechauns, chickens, clowns, and everything in between. Alcohol is not sold by the event's vendors, but is allowed for consumption in the tailgate parking area. The Olcott Lions Club has a zero tolerance policy when it comes to drinking and driving and underage drinking. Have fun, but please be responsible. And remember, area police will be enforcing drinking-driving laws.
While participants are challenged to raise $100 or more, you can join in the fun with a minimum swimmer contribution of $20. All swimmers who participate will receive a Polar Bear T-shirt. A swimmer who raises $100 or more will receive a "Swim for Sight" hoodie and be granted a preferred first access pass to the beach. Those who raise $250 or more will be given a premium quality jacket with a Swim for Sight logo. And those who raise $500 or more will receive a dinner gift certificate. Those who do not wish to swim but would still like to donate can do so by mailing their donation to Olcott Lions Club, P.O. Box 316, Olcott, NY, 14126 or by emailing [email protected].
The Olcott Lions Club appreciates the continued support from the WNY community for this exciting fundraiser. So if you think you have what it takes to laugh in winter's face, come out Sunday, March 4, for the Olcott Lions Club Swim for Sight.
For more information, check out their website at www.olcottlions.org.