SILVER CREEK - Judi Kelly and Pamela Forge, co-chairpersons of the 12th annual Polar Bear Swim in Silver Creek, couldn't have been more pleased with the turnout and the event held on Sunday.
As Forge said, "Right when the swimmers went in the water, the sun came out. It's like God was smiling on us."
About 100 people took the plunge into Lake Erie on Sunday. The land temperature was about 60 degrees while the water was about 37 degrees. After coming out of the water, people lingered on the beach longer than usual, enjoying the warmer than usual temperature. Some of the participants actually went back into the lake.
An exuberant crowd of swimmers plunges into Lake Erie on Sunday for the 12th annual Polar Bear Swim.
Photo by Diane R. Chodan
To keep the event safe, the Silver Creek and Sunset Bay Fire Departments provided water rescue personnel. The personnel set up an area for spectators and participants, as well as staffing the area set aside for swimmers.
Silver Creek First Assistant Chief James Tytka Jr. said, "Keeping people safe is our first priority. This also gives the guys water time in a rescue suit which goes toward their training."
Tytka then smiled and said, "If you want to jump in the lake, this is a good day for it."
Many of the swimmers took the plunge in costume. A group of friends - Les Ormsby, Sonja Bacho, Dana Torres, Kelly Wasiela, Liz Wasiela and Bill Petsch - dressed as polar bears. Last year the group came as clowns.
Torres, when asked why he continues to do this, said, "It's a good cause, good friends and a good time."
Jason Merritt of Merritt Winery, who swam and also donated several wine baskets, said it was really warm in the water. He and his friend Mike Malinowski agreed that their feet were the coldest.
The group who won the costume contest last year as the Fairy Princess Men, returned this year as a bride and four bridesmaids. Another group came as the men from Duck Dynasty.
The Polish Plungers came complete with tie-dyed shirts and plunger hats. Vince Szymanski explained that the name is from the Polar Plunge that takes place in Hamburg. He, his dad Mike, and friend Dan Sealanderski come from Cheektowaga. Vince thought the day was a little too warm for the fans of polar swimming, but he and his group had fun anyway.
County legislator George Borrello participated for the eighth time and this year was accompanied by Rod Rogers.
"We talked a little politics in the water," Borrello said.
Denise Wolnik of Dunkirk was the top fundraiser again this year. She raised $4,650 in pledges and also was responsible for getting people to donate to the silent auction.
Wolnik said that she had tremendous support from her employer, Carriage House, and her co-workers there, as well as some of the clubs of which she is a member.
"I do this to help the kids," she said. She participated in the telethon and said she was moved by the experience. "I will do anything to help the Kids' Club."
In addition to the plunge, there was a chili cook-off and other refreshments available. Both Merritt and Willowcreek Wineries had wine-tasting tables. Rock 'n Roll to the Rescue provided entertainment, while Bone Shakers provided live music. A large silent auction and fantasy black jack were also part of the event.
This year Tim Hortons in Silver Creek and Irving donated gloves to all the swimmers.
There was no admission fee for spectators but a donation of non-perishable food, cleaning supplies, paper products and health and beauty aids was requested for the food pantry.
The charities benefiting from this event are Variety Kids (Women & Children's Hospital), the Silver Creek Emergency Squad, Sunset Bay Volunteer Fire Department and the Silver Creek Food Pantry.