SILVER CREEK - Brave souls took a leap into the frigid lake on Sunday. The annual Polar Bear Swim in Silver Creek was held at the Firehouse on the Lake, with the event starting at noon and the swim promptly at 1 p.m. For dedicated polar bears, there were no worries about the 32-degree temperature of Lake Erie.
"Some people just jump right in and right out, and then other people actually stay in for sometimes five, 10 minutes, they do laps it's crazy," said Co-chair Pamela Forge, involved since the event's inception nine years ago.
Co-chairs Forge and Judi Kelly, along with help from the staff at the Firehouse on the Lake, organize the swim. Forge said the idea for the event was a way to alleviate the wintertime blues and boredom. Hideaway Bay waitress Debbie Adams, Forge and Kelly began planning the first Polar Bear Swim that July for the weekend following New Year's Eve, "when nothing else is going on in Chautauqua County."
"You want to do an event to give people an opportunity to get out of the house, have something fun to look forward to," Forge said. "And it's just grown, year after year, it gets bigger and better."
More than 80 swimmers jumped into the water on Sunday. Twelve swimmers participated in the first year, with 65 polar bears last year. Forge said more than the registered group took the leap.
"The thing that's a shame about that is we just want people to do it for charity," Forge said. "If they would just call us ahead of time, we'd give them a pledge sheet. I mean, come on! Anybody would pay five bucks to their friend to dare them to jump in Lake Erie."
Total funds raised have yet to be determined, with final figures to be released in the coming days by organizers. The swimmer raising the most money in pledges was Jeff Majtyka, who Forge said always manages to raise a significant sum for the swim.
The event, until last year, was held at the now-defunct Hideaway Bay restaurant up until last year. One more change was in order for this year's swim: the creek where the swim is usually held was disrupted by the August flood, so polar bears will be jumping into the lake instead this year.
"We moved it to the Firehouse on the Lake a year ago and it was the best move we could have made," Forge said. "We really outgrew Hideaway Bay. The (new) facility is much bigger, we're able to be much more organized and they have just been fabulous."
The Polar Bear Swim is a fundraiser for Variety Kids Telethon (Women and Children's Hospital), the Silver Creek Rescue Squad, the Sunset Bay Volunteer Fire Department and the Silver Creek Food Pantry, with donations of non-perishable goods and toiletries for families in need.
Forge said the event would not be possible without all of the community support. Sahlen's contributed hot dogs, Quality Markets donated condiments for hamburgers and hot dogs, Petri Baking Company donated cookies. Many local businesses have donated items for the Chinese auction.
Live music was provided by Buffalo blues band Harvey and the Hurricanes and DJ services by Rock'n Roll to the Rescue. Fantasy blackjack and a chili cook-off were also enjoyed. The winner was Primo's & Kelly's Pub in Irving; taking second place was Richard Smith of the Firehouse on the Lake; and coming in third was Tom's Family Restaurant. Also participating were the Silver Creek VFW, Seneca Hawk, Desperado's Barbecue and the South Shore Beach Club, both of Angola. Prize winners for best-dressed swimmers were the Penguins from Firehouse on the Lake, literally dressed in homemade penguin costumes and fittingly leaping out of the water with plastic fish in their teeth.
The Silver Creek-Irving Chamber of Commerce raffled off a "basket of cheer," containing about $400 of liquor, won by a Clarence resident who purchased their ticket at the Festival of Grapes.
There was once a hot tub wherein polar bears could warm up post-swim but now swimmers return directly inside the Firehouse. In the basement, there are two bathrooms where participants can get changed. Plenty of hot beverages were served as well.
While the swim is about fun and raising funds, safety always comes first. Sunday's event went on without incident.
"We have normally about 12 firefighters out in the water with cold water rescue suits on just in case we have any mishaps," Silver Creek Fire Chief Todd Johnson said.
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