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Polar Bears take the plunge — or don’t

Polar Bears take the plunge — or don’t

Of the few hundred people who ran into Lake George on Tuesday at Shepard Park beach, the two who sta

Of the few hundred people who ran into Lake George on Tuesday at Shepard Park beach, the two who stayed in longest were brothers from Albany County, Brian and Bill Hart.

Smoking or chewing on cigars, wearing old fashioned pilot’s and football helmets, they seemed blithely unconcerned about the temperature. “We take a lot of tequila,” said Bill, explaining their training regimen. Brian said eating helped, too, contributing to the middle-aged brothers’ considerable waistlines and powers of endurance.

Jim McDonnell of the Bronx got out just before the Hart brothers. He had a temperature gauge on his watch, and said the water was 38 degrees. That’s a bit colder than he’s used to, McDonnell said, in his regular Sunday swims with the Coney Island Polar Bears.

Only a minority of those who went in actually swam, and the one who got farthest appeared to be a Queensbury 14-year-old named Dylan, who pumped his fist in triumph. The only unpleasant part, he said later, was the sensation of the ice pricking into his neck on the way back.

While the water around the pier was clear, there was a film of icy slush over most of the lake, coming right up to the beach.

George Rockwell, 69, “ran up to my waist, and decided it was better judgment not to dive in. . . . There’s a physical reaction,” he said. “There’s a certain bodily resistance to going farther.”

Rockwell, who heads the Lake George Rotary, was one of more than 20 Rotarians taking the plunge as part of a fundraiser to battle polio, which he said is still a problem in places such as India and Nigeria. Rockwell said the Rotary’s Albany district chairwoman told him that about $25,000 was raised at the event for the polio project.

Linda Duffy, co-chairperson of the Lake George Winter Carnival, said about 650 people had paid $5 to sign up to swim. Fewer than that appeared to take to the water. Duffy said the snowy weather likely reduced the crowd from last year’s, but she was pleased at the turnout.

After expenses are paid, the money from the $5 fees will go to the Women In Need charity, she said, which operates in the southern Adirondacks. The Polar Bear Swim kicks off the Winter Carnival, Duffy said, although most of its events get under way in February. The carnival took over the Polar Bear Swim about seven years ago.

Duffy was emceeing the event, but her microphone cut out near the 2 p.m. scheduled start — probably, she said, because it got wet. Fortunately, the assembled crowd on the beach was up to the occasion, and chanted out a countdown in unison, after which they all ran into the water.

Elsewhere in the village, the Adirondack cruise ship took its traditional New Year’s Day voyages. Senior Captain John Mason said ice occasionally makes it impossible to cast off, but not this year. They were able to cruise despite the snow, which drastically reduced visibility on the lake, where everything faded into grey. The far shore and the mountains were invisible.

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