by Terry Duffy
Brrr! Talk about timing.
The Lake Ontario shores are chocked with far-stretching ice fields, temperatures are in the single digits, and guess what's here? The 45th annual Olcott Lions Club Polar Bear Swim for Sight.
It takes place this Sunday, March 2, on the shores at Krull County Park in Olcott Beach. Festivities get underway at 10 a.m., with - of all things - a tailgate party.
At 1:45 p.m., the always-popular Polar Bear Queen Contest will again be part of this annual favorite. The plunge - make that, series of plunges - starts shortly before 2 p.m.
The event has been a tradition on the Olcott Beach scene every year at this time since 1968. Swimmers numbering in the hundreds are again expected to participate. Last year's Swim for Sight saw 573 souls braving the ice-clogged waters with temperatures in the teens to low 20s, and wind chills in the 0 to 5 range. Donations in the $15,000 to $20,000 range were raised to benefit a host of Lions sight programs.
With weather this Sunday expected to at least mimic last year's, look for another good crowd of rowdy souls in all types of swim wear - skimpy bikinis to the outlandish - and ready to take to the icy bath. Last year, cranes and front loaders had to be brought in to chop the mounds of lake ice, biting winds howled and many an inebriated soul dared to take to the water.
Expect much of the same this year.
Olcott Lions Club organizers report that, in addition to the aforementioned, there will be a couple of new events for visitors at this year's swim. A number of Niagara County fire companies will participate in a tug-of-war competition on the beach beginning at 10 a.m. Come root on your favorite and join in the camaraderie.
The firefighters will also be hosting a chili cook-off from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Generous samples of chili will be available for a $5 donation. And you get keep your own mug.
A variety of hot foods and beverages will be for sale by local organizations. Included will be the Newfane Lions chowder sale, the Gasport Lions hot dog cart, Youngstown Lions Italian sausage, the Newfane lacrosse chicken barbecue and the Lockport Robotics pork barbecue.
Additional entertainment can be found at Olcott-area bars and restaurants.
Swimmers are still welcome to join in the fun.
Hey, never mind the cold!
Registration continues online at www.olcottlions.org. Signups open at 11 a.m. Sunday at the Olcott Lions pavilion in Krull Park. Donation starts at $20 per person. A polar bear T-shirt will be provided. Higher donations give a swimmer "preferred first access" plus other goodies, such as a "Swim for Sight" hoodie at the $100 level, and a "Swim for Sight" premium jacket for donations of $250 or more.
Following the Polar Bear Queen competition, the actual swimming extravaganza gets underway at 1:50 p.m. for swimmers under age 18. It continues at 2 p.m. for adults, with "preferred access" swimmers in first. Entry will continue in waves of 15-minute intervals to accommodate the remaining swimmers.
The revelry continues to 4 p.m. Area bars and restaurants will remain open throughout the afternoon and evening for those seeking warmth, food or a good time.
Olcott Lions advise all swimmers, as well as visitors, to come prepared for the harsh weather conditions expected - both onshore and in the viewing areas.
Sneakers or protective foot gear are mandatory for all swimmers due to the ice conditions. Participants are advised to bring a towel, blanket and have a partner on hand to assist with entering, for changes of clothing, etc. Water rescue personnel from local fire companies and the U.S. Coast Guard will be on site both in the water and on the beach during the swim, and EMS personnel will be in the area as needed.
Olcott Lions advise all swim participants and visitors to play it safe and exercise some common sense at Swim for Sight. Weather conditions are expected to challenging, if not difficult, and area law enforcement agencies will be out in force, ensuring safety on the roads.
For more on Swim for Sight, visit www.olcottlions.org.
>>Watch highlights from the 2013 event: