By Kaley Lynch
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — OLCOTT — The breaking of the ice has begun at Olcott Beach in preparation for the brave souls who will charge into Lake Ontario this weekend.
The 45th Olcott Polar Bear Swim for Sight will take place this Sunday, with adult swimmers starting at 2 p.m.
The event, which is sponsored by the Olcott Lions Club, raises money for multiple sight charities, including Eastern Niagara Hospital, eye disease research and treatment, and the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind.
Temperatures are expected in the 20s for Sunday — a bit chilly for early March. Thanks to a cold winter, there's lots of packed ice along the shore that must be broken up before swimmers can enter the water.
Town of Newfane supervisor Tim Horanburg said workers began chipping away at the ice Wednesday.
“If the weather continues to be very cold, the highway department will continue digging until just before the swimmers go in,” Horanburg said.
The cold is unlikely to deter swimmers. Last years' swim attracted 573 participants from across Western New York and outside the region.
The event has become a tradition in Niagara County, Bill Clark, chairman of the Swim for Sight said.
“After holding this event for so many years, we're starting to see some of the first people who participated come back and bring their sons or daughters, or even their grandchildren,” Clark said. “People get very excited about this event.”
This year, firefighters from across Niagara County will be participating in two new events: a tug of war at 10 a.m. and a chili cook-off from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. For a $5 donation, spectators get a souvenir mug and are invited to taste all of the samples and vote for their favorite.
The Swim for Sight has brought in nearly $200,000 in the years the Lions Club has collected pledges.
“We challenge each participant to bring in $100, but the minimum contribution is $20,” Clark said. “A lot of participants get businesses or family members to sponsor them, so it's pretty doable.”
Swim registration will be held from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. The Polar Bear Queen contest will be held at 1:45 p.m., with the under-17 swim to be held at 1:50.
This year's swim is being held in honor of Mike Rann, founder of the Polar Bear Swim. Rann passed away in November, and was active in the Olcott Lions until the end.
“He started it at his tavern in 1968, which was torn down in the 1980s, and continued to organize it every year,” Clark said.Contact reporter Kaley Lynch at 429-9222 ext. 6245 or tweet to @Lynchie17