Swimmers braving the frigid temperatures during the Lake George New Year’s Day Polar Plunge event dash from the lake after a brief swim. Event organizers said they were pleased with the turnout despite the cold weather.
For many, charging into the frigid waters of Lake George during the village’s annual New Year’s Day Polar Plunge is a matter of bravado.
This year, the 900 or so diving into the lake truly earned their bragging rights, considering that the prevailing temperatures were far colder than in recent years.
A smaller but more courageous crowd than in 2010, 2011 or 2012 dove into Lake George during the annual rite of revelry, a long-standing local tradition that for years has drawn 1,200 to 2,000 people.
Temperatures of about 18 degrees fahrenheit and a wind-chill factor occasionally below zero degrees apparently cut down the number of swimmers, as only 900 or so people registered for the plunge.
Waiting in a long line to register were Tonya Chaplin, Eliza Shepard, Jessica Dickinson, and their friends Jen and Adrian of Troy — a group of paramedics and EMS personnel in the Capital Region dressed in swimsuits and polar-bear headgear.
“You only live once,” Chaplin said when asked why she recruited her friends for the frigid dip.
“We’ll probably only be alive until we jump into that water,” Shepard retorted.
“It took lots of hand-warmers — and alcohol — to get up the nerve to do this,” Dickinson joked.
Standing beside them garbed in a thick parka was their friend Ralph Southworth.
“These girls are insane — I’d never do it,” he said. “I just came along to provide moral support.”
Absent from the plunge were the myriad costumes that so many sported in past years. No ketchup and mustard bottles, no Fred Flintstone, no Dorothy & Toto or other bizarre getups.
One exception was Steve Silver, who was among a group of former students of Hudson Valley Community College Psychology Professor John Ostwald. Silver was one of two of the alumni dressed up in a pink tutu, pink-fringed hat and similarly-shaded shaggy leg-warmers.
A decade ago, Ostwald dared his students to join him in the New Year’s Day polar plunge, and it’s been a tradition ever since, he said, drying off after his swim.
“It’s something to do, to shake things up,” he said. “We’re alive!”
Mike Gallagher and his wife Robin, their 11 year-old daughter Heyley and their son Michael, 15, drove up from Long Island to participate in the Polar Plunge.
They lugged bags containing shorts, T-shirts, robe, blakets, party hats, and flip-flops to their annual rite.
Mike Gallagher said his family wouldn’t think of missing the event, despite the long haul.
“For the last 13 years, this is the way we start out the New Year,” he said. “And we don’t want to stop the tradition.”
Drenched from her polar swim, Mackenzie McGuinness, 12, of Milford, N.J. stood on of several beach towels spread over the hard-packed snow on the beach. Clad in a bikini, she was shivering as the sub-freezing wind chilled her and her 10-year-old brother Seamus.
“This is terrible,” she said. “But it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be coming back out of the water,” Mackenzie said.
“That’s because you’re numb,” Seamus responded.
“Yes, it’s freezing, but I convinced them they’d have bragging rights,” said their father Peter McGuinness.
Cathy Halliday wasn’t shivering — she looked like the frigid temperatures were no big deal.
Twelve years ago, her family members decided it was appropriate for her to participate, considering that New Year’s Day was her birthday, Halliday recalled. Every year since but one, she and her family members have participated in the rite to observe her birthday. They’ve also engaged in the polar plunge as a way to celebrate life itself — Halliday has survived a bout with cancer.
“Many years ago, they got me a little drunk, and the rest is history,” she said.
Erik Andersen of Ballston Spa was jumping in dance-like movements, surrounded by family members and friends standing on beach towels.
A regular fair-weather visitor whose family camps on Lake George, Andersen said that the polar plunge had special meaning.
“Through this tradition, we pay homage to the lake,” he said.