March 2-3 weekend to include Polar Eve Snow Ball, ‘Swim For Sight’ events at Olcott Beach
By Terry Duffy
Set aside the weekend of March 2-3 for Olcott Beach. A big one is coming.
The event? Well, it’s the 50th anniversary of the Olcott Lions Club’s legendary “Swim For Sight,” of course.
It’s held on the shores of Lake Ontario at Olcott Beach on the first Sunday in March each year – dating back to the 1960s. This annual fundraising event for the Olcott Lions Club has grown over the decades to become one of the most popular of its kind on the Western New York scene.
“Costumed and warm-hearted, the hardiest polar bear swimmers in America parade down Main Street and traverse the path to the frozen shore, sponsored and cheered on every step of the way by family, friends and co-workers,” the Olcott Lions proclaim. “As the swimmers brave the elements, thousands of spectators gather on the snow-covered terraces of Krull Park, surround the shoreline and encourage their favorite swimmers to frolic in the frigid water. Swimmers and spectators come together to spend a day enjoying a Great Lakes winter day while helping those in need.”
“The Olcott Polar Bear ‘Swim For Sight’ is a fundraiser and community ‘fun’ day that is WNY’s oldest charity swim,” “Swim For Sight” event Chairman Bill Clark posted on the Olcott Lions Facebook page. “This 50th anniversary swim, it is where thousands gather in Olcott to watch up to 1,000 happy and zany souls who swim in the frigid water, enjoy tailgating with family and friends, the event’s vendors, music, as well as the restaurants and bars of this beautiful, friendly community that is located on the southern shores of Lake Ontario – all to help those less fortunate.”
Needless to say, this 50th year happening is expected to be a big one for the Olcott Lions.
The celebrations actually get underway a week earlier – on Sunday morning, Feb. 24, with the second annual Polar Bear 5K on local streets followed by an all-you-can-eat breakfast at the Olcott Fire Co. firehall, 1691 Olcott-Lockport Road.
Visit the hamlet of Olcott, check out the runners and then stop by the firehall and enjoy hot pancakes, eggs, sausage and bacon, as well as juice, coffee and fresh fruit. The meal will be made and served by the Olcott Fire Ladies Auxiliary and firefighters. Doors open at 8 a.m. The cost is $7 per person, with kids ages 5 and under eating for free.
Come Saturday evening, March 2, the “Swim For Sight” 50th anniversary celebration gets into gear with the Polar Eve Snow Ball at the Olcott firehall. Visitors can look forward to an evening reliving history and reminiscing about past “Swim For Sight” events with former participants and current friends. The ball opens at 5 p.m. and continues until 10 p.m. It includes a unique commemorative movie highlighting the past 50 years of “Swim For Sight”; a spaghetti dinner; awards and networking; a presentation of Lions’ Star Service Awards and the Founder’s Memorial Award; a cash bar; music by Joe Squared; and 50/50 raffles, door prizes and much, much more.
“In recognition of this year’s 50th anniversary charity swim, we are celebrating past queens, people with great compassionate heart who were crazy enough to take the plunge, and six of our special partners, without whom our swim would not have made the last 50 years possible,” Clark said. “Come join us for a magical evening of fun and celebration as we lead into this year’s swim the next morning.”
Entrance to the Polar Eve Ball is a $25 contribution to the “Swim For Sight” fund. Tickets can be purchased individually, or by table of 10 for guaranteed seating arrangements. Tickets are available from any member of the Olcott Lions or Newfane Lions Club; via email at [email protected]; or by contacting Clark at 716-778-8531. Seating is limited to 300.
Then, on Sunday, March 3, “Swim For Sight” gets underway starting at 10 a.m. at Olcott Beach. The day typically sees tailgate parties taking place throughout the hamlet and continuing with a number of fun events to attend or partake in, leading up to the afternoon “Polar Bear Plunge.”
That morning, the Olcott Fire Co. is sponsoring its fifth annual Firefighter’s Tug-Of-War in Krull Park, just above the beach. This free event is open to all fire companies in Niagara and surrounding counties. Registration opens at 10:30 a.m.
Organizer Kenna Lindell welcomes area fire companies, as well as “Swim For Sight” tailgaters to stop by and check out the action.
“This event was created to have fun in our brotherhood, and to break up the monotony of the long winter months,” she said. “Stick around after the tug and enjoy hot firemen’s chili, chowder and other goodies made by our own local fire companies.”
She noted reigning champion Team Mutual Aid (Barker, Wilson, Ransomville, Niagara Falls) will look to defend the title and trophy.
For more information on the tug-of-war, contact Lindell at 513-649-1978.
Swim registration for participants continues at Krull Park from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m.
Special events for visitors to mark the 50th year include a “Parade of Polar Bears, Past and Present” at 1 p.m., and the Polar Bear King and Queen contest at 1:45 p.m.
Swimmers ages 18 and under will start to enter the Lake Ontario waters beginning at 1:50 p.m., with “Swim For Sight’s” adult participants entering in waves at 2 p.m. Access times will be scheduled in 15-minute intervals.
Those interested in joining in the fun for this historic #freesin4Areason “Swim For Sight” can pre-register for $25 per person ($30 on the event day). A commemorative 50th anniversary T-shirt will be provided for all participants. Those who fundraise $150 or more will receive the T-shirt and a 50th anniversary commemorative hat and hoodie. Those who raise $500 or more will receive the T-shirt, a commemorative jacket, plus VIP access to the beach.
Individuals and teams are welcome to join in the “Swim For Sight” beach fun. In doing so, they’ll be helping the community. Funds raised in this event go to support a number of Olcott Lions vision projects, including Lions Blind and Charity Fund, the Guide 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 fundraiser, children’s summer reading program, Equi-Star Therapeutic Riding, Niagara Frontier Reading Service, Niagara Hospice, local food and soup kitchens, the Olcott Beach Carousel Park and community projects, Olcott Lions Scholarship Fund and Olcott Volunteer Fire Co.
For more information on “Swim For Sight,” visit the Olcott Lions on Facebook or online at www.olcottlions.org.