Milder weather forecast for this year's event
By Terry Duffy
What a difference a year makes.
Last year's 46th Olcott Lions Polar Swim for Sight took place amid one of the worst winters ever in Western New York.
Polar Bear Swim 2015 saw temperatures in the teens and low 20s, blustery winds pelting off Lake Ontario, 1-2 feet of snow on the ground, an ice-clogged lake - and fewer swimmers. Olcott Lions organizers reported a total of 344 hardy souls ventured into the frigidity at Krull Park in Olcott Beach, with overall participants down nearly half from previous years.
Come this Sunday, the Olcott Lions Club has hopes for far bigger crowds as it takes on what's left of this mild winter at the Lions' 47th annual Swim for Sight.
The event will again take place on the beach at Krull County Park. And with temperatures forecast for the mid- to upper-30s with sunny skies, this event, appropriately hashtagged #FreezinForAReason, will again see swimmers of all ages, shapes and sizes dashing into the still-cold Lake Ontario waters for a good cause.
"There are none more dedicated to fundraising for worthy causes than polar bear swimmers!" the Olcott Lions proclaimed. "And there are no polar bear swimmers more dedicated than those that head to Olcott Beach, to plunge into the icy waters of Lake Ontario to raise money for the blind and visually impaired."
Sponsored by the Olcott Lions, Swim for Sight has been one of Niagara County's most popular winter events for over 45 years. Sunday, visitors will again experience what the Lions boast as "the hardiest polar bear swimmers in America," donned in all types of costumes - many in varying states of intoxication - parading down Main Street and navigating the icy steps and path of the park toward the near-frozen Lake Ontario shore.
It's a community event that's one of a kind.
Swim for Sight opens with a tailgate party at 10 a.m. in the hamlet. Morning activities will feature an on-beach tug-of-war with members of area volunteer fire companies, a firefighters chili cook-off at 11 a.m. and plenty of socializing on streets and along the shore.
Throughout the day, visitors will find foods and beverages to suit all tastes. Look for the Newfane Lions chowder sale, the Gasport Lions hot dog cart, the Newfane lacrosse chicken barbecue, Lockport Robotics pork barbecue, plus a variety of food and drink specials available at area establishments.
Swimmer participation in this fundraiser is open to all who dare to try. Entry opens with a minimum $25 donation, with the swimmer receiving an official Swim for Sight T-shirt. For $100, the swimmer will receive a unique Swim for Sight hoodie, plus a pass allowing for preferred first access to the beach. And for a donation of $300 or more, the swimmer will receive a premium jacket with the Swim for Sight logo.
Registration opens at 11 a.m. and continues to the start of the swim at 2 p.m.
Look for spectators to gather along the shore to root on their favorites at the annual Polar Bear Queen Contest starting at 1:45 p.m. Contest participants are requested to check-in prior to the event at the Lions pavilion in Krull Park.
Actual swims into the lake will begin for those under 18 at 1:50 p.m. The Swim for Sight for all others gets underway at 2 p.m., with access going first to those swimmers who have raised $100 or more. Access times will continue in 15-minute intervals for all swimmers.
Olcott Lions invite you to be a part of this fun event and help out a number of Lions Sight projects and community organizations. These include the Lions Blind and Charity Fund; the Guiding Dog Foundation for the Blind; Guiding Eyes for the Blind; diabetes treatment and research; Vision Beyond Sight; Lions Disaster Relief Fund; Rainbow of Help; Children's Variety Telethon; Children's Summer Reading Program; Equi-Star Therapeutic Riding; Niagara Frontier Reading Service; Niagara Hospice; area food and soup kitchens; the Olcott Beach Carousel Park and community projects; the Olcott Lions Scholarship Fund; and the Olcott Volunteer Fire Co.
A chilly Ashley Warren was crowned 2015 Polar Bear Queen. (Photo by Terry Duffy)