Sunday's temperatures were undeniably bitter, with the thermometer reading 15 degrees for most of the afternoon and wind chills of 3 degrees.
Early in the afternoon, excavators were still out on Krull Beach, breaking up ice on frozen Lake Ontario and carving out a rectangular “swimming hole.”
The conditions didn't deter more than 500 brave souls who charged into the water, in bikinis, trunks or crazy costumes, for the Olcott Lion's Club 45th annual Polar Bear Swim for Sight.
Pirates, Vikings and superheroes stormed the beach for their turn to plunge into the freezing water. Beth Hymiak, 23, of Lockport, splashed in dressed in a realistic jellyfish costume.
“Everyone seems to be getting a kick out of it,” Hymiak said of her homemade costume, which matched a friend's.
“It's so cold, your legs start to hurt almost instantly!” she added. “The crowd is always so excited to be there, it's a fun atmosphere.”
Alexa Ralicki made the drive from Kettering, Ohio, to enjoy Sunday's festivities.
“I come here every year, and what I've learned is to wear lots of layers,” Ralicki, a former Olcott resident, said while watching the second round of swimmers enter the water. “I don't jump in, but I admire their dedication.”
Tailgating started at 10 a.m., with partiers arriving by truck, bus and limousine. Firefighters from companies across Niagara County competed in a series of friendly tug-of-war matches, an event that was brought back after a few years' hiatus.
Sam Redmond of Wilson was crowned 2014 Polar Bear Queen. The decades-old contest awards the title to the contestant who “best exhibits the spirit and character of Polar Bear Day.” Contestants must make the swim and get their hair wet to qualify.
To participate in the Swim for Sight, swimmers were asked to raise $20 to benefit a handful of sight organizations, including Niagara Hospice and Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind. The event annually raises about $18,000.
Although the turnout has been better in previous years with warmer winters, Olcott Lions past president Bill Rosenburg said, the event still attracted plenty of swimmers.
“We've had years where it was 60 degrees out, and we'd just see thousands of people come out to swim. This year there's a few less people swimming, but plenty still came out to watch," he said.