Preview by Rachel Jolbert
Photo by Terry Duffy
Dig out the bathing suits and grab your friends. The 2013 Olcott Lions Club "Swim for Sight" at Krull Park in Olcott Beach is just around the corner.
On Sunday, March 3, the event will kick off on the shores of this lakeside hamlet with a festive tailgate party starting at 10 a.m.
Now in its 44th year, this happening has become a Western New York tradition, with swimmers of all ages plunging into Lake Ontario near the season's end of winter for a good cause.
The Olcott Lions describe the affair as similar to a walkathon, where willing, call them daring, participants raise contributions to benefit Olcott Lions programs and receive awards based on contribution levels. But the event itself is also a late-winter outdoor partying favorite, and has been for many a Western New Yorker since its start in 1968. It's one of three winter lake swim spectacles held in the area - the others being out on Lake Erie and on Chautauqua Lake in the Southern Tier. And this year will likely be no different.
A minimum donation for a cool dip is $20, but the Olcott Lions are challenging entrants to contribute more. In fact, they are prepared to hand out prizes to all swimmers raising more than $100. Collecting more than $100 for the fundraiser not only grants a lucky swimmer "early access" to the beach, but also gets you a "Swim for Sight" hoodie. Those participants raising $250 will also receive a "Swim for Sight" jacket and those raising $500 or more earn a dinner gift certificate.
If you are interested in donating but not up for the roughly 30-degree plunge into Lake Ontario, you can still attend the event and receive a T-shirt with a minimum $20 donation. And remember, you are helping out a good cause.
The Olcott Lions have held this event for more than 40 years and raised thousands of dollars for several organizations. Those that have benefited from the Swim for Sight in the past include: Canine Helpers for the Handicapped, Guiding Eyes for the Blind, Lions Blind and Charity Fund and several other Lions-affiliated organizations. Being a part of this history is both rewarding and fun.
The Lions advise all to arrive early for the event. Parking lots open at 10 a.m. and the tailgating gets under way soon after at Olcott Beach. At 11 a.m., mandatory swimmer registration gets under way; the outdoor partying continues and, by 1:45 p.m., the Polar Bear Queen Contest, always popular with onlookers, begins. Those participating will need to check in beforehand at the Lions Pavilion in Krull Park.
Swimmers age 18 and under will get their chance to swim before the general public at 1:50 p.m. This year, there are new rules for swimmers under 18, including mandatory written parental permission or parent accompaniment. Young children are not allowed to be carried by parents into the water or on the beach due to slippery and potentially rough conditions.
All other participants will be swimming starting at 2 p.m. in 15-minute intervals, with those who raised more than $100 having preferred access and first dibs to the beach. Swimmers are encouraged to wear family-friendly costumes to the event. Costumes sported in the past include: luau girls, clowns, leprechauns and many other unique and fun characters.
Swimmers are also reminded to bring sneakers, towels and blankets, dry clothes, a camera and have one helper on hand to accompany them on the beach. The weather is expected to be chilly and the water will likely be very icy with temperatures hovering around 30 degrees. Swimmer safety is always top priority for organizers, and all participants are advised to take extreme caution during the duration of the event.
For spectators, enjoy this event, but also be mindful of others. And remember area police will on the lookout for any troublemakers; don't drink and drive.
Refreshments will be available throughout Olcott Beach from a number of local vendors as well as area bars and restaurants. Not-for-profits selling food at the event include: the Newfane Lions chowder sale, Gasport Lions hot dog cart, Youngstown Lions Italian sausage, Newfane Lacrosse chicken barbecue and Lockport Robotics pork barbecue.
If you think you are brave enough to take this plunge, start your fundraising, because this event is just a week away - March 3. For more information about the event or if you are interested in volunteering to help with the swim, go to the Olcott Lions webpage for the event: http://www.olcottlions.org/swim.htm or send an email to [email protected].