LAKE GEORGE - Local resident Jeremy Brown dashed into the icy waters of Lake George at Shepard Beach alongside hundreds of others, splashed around for a while, and returned to the beach as a lakeside crowd of spectators cheered and yelled.
As water began forming ice in his hair, Brown reflected on why he was swimming on Jan. 1 when the air temperature was a frigid 12 degrees.
"It's a way to start the new year off on the right foot," Brown said. "I feel cleansed when I come out, like I have washed away the old burdens - it's like being a whole new man."
A near record group of 850 swimmers participated in the 29th annual New Year's Day Polar Plunge. Many said they perceive the event as a dramatic, visceral way of starting anew and shedding the burdens of the prior year, while others are looking for a way to add excitement to their lives.
Other participants were looking to stimulate the endorphins activated by swimming in 33-degree water.
"It is the biggest natural high there is," said long-time polar swim participant John Coutts. "I love the adrenaline rush that comes when you first get in the water."
After singing the National Anthem and a 10-second countdown, a huge wave of humanity rushed for the water. Faces cringed and swimmers screamed as the icy water sent a shock through their bodies.
"It's an amazing feeling," said Rich Scachrilla of Lake Luzerne. "It's like eating hot peppers from the inside out."
There were so many polar swimmers at this year's event that an encore swim was added 30 minutes after the first to accommodate all of them.
After the polar swim, participants and onlookers swarmed to Duffy's Tavern nearby where live music played and participants swapped tales of the bone-chilling experience.
The Polar Plunge is a prelude to the Lake George Winter Carnival which is held every weekend during February.