Brothers Brian and William Hart have an unusual way of training for the annual Polar Bear plunge at Shepard Park Beach, Lake George, on New Year’s Day.
“We train year-round for this event,” said William, 57, who weighs about 300 pounds. “We consume as much alcohol as possible. We eat as much fatty food as possible, and we smoke as many cigars as possible. After all, this is our sport.”
Last year, about 650 people paid $5 each to swim, said Linda Duffy, co-chairwoman of the Lake George Winter Carnival. But fewer than that actually took the plunge, possibly because of the snowy weather.
Polar Bear plunge
WHERE: Shepard Park Beach, Lake George
WHEN: New Years Day, 2 p.m.
MORE INFO: Registration begins at 10:30 a.m. at Duffy’s Tavern, 20 Amherst Drive, Lake George
“We hope to get at least 650 this year,” said Duffy. “Each year, it seems to get bigger and bigger.”
Registration begins at 10:30 a.m. at Duffy’s Tavern, 20 Amherst Drive, Lake George. The plunge will take place at 2 p.m.
The Hart brothers ride motorcycles in the summer. So when they jump into the icy water, they wear their helmets and smoke some cigars to add to the ambience, they said.
“It’s actually a lot of fun,” said Brian Hart, 55, who lives in Loudonville. “The shock is not really that great. If you were taking a shower and someone were to shut the hot water off, the shock would be greater.”
Because most years the air temperature and water temperature are similar, usually between 35 and 45 degrees, Brian said the water doesn’t feel that different from the air temperature.
“I also have a lot of insulation on me,” said Brian, who weighs about 260 pounds and works as a production supervisor at Star Fire Systems Co. in Malta.
Brian, who has been taking part in the plunge since about 1995, said he is always the last one out of the water.
“Years ago, when there were only 50 or 60 people, I’d only have to stay in the water a few minutes,” he said. “Now at least 600 people show up. Last year, I was in the water at least 20 minutes.”
Last year, Brian said he swam out to a nearby boat and had a beer with the owners.
“Some kayakers came over, and I was talking with them, too,” he said.
Before the event, the brothers imbibe a little alcohol, they said.
“I’m not divulging how much,” said Brian. “But I love Irish whiskey. But not too much. Too much alcohol is actually counterproductive. ”
“It’s a hoot,” added Brian’s brother, William, 57, a landlord, who owns property in Troy. “It’s a fun thing to do because of the camaraderie of all the people. There’s an excitement to doing it. And it takes the boredom out of the winter.”
Two years ago, while sitting at a tiki bar in Florida, William said someone recognized him from a television interview he had done about the polar bear plunge.
“I became a celebrity in the bar, and everybody started buying me drinks,” he recalled. “It was so funny.”
That same year, William said his picture was in the Adirondack Times.
“Last year when I went back up to Lake George for the plunge, all these people wanted me to sign their copy of Adirondack Times,” said William. “So it’s kind of taken on a life of its own. It’s really getting funny.”
William said there is often some tequila involved before taking the plunge.
“We start around 11 a.m.,” he recalled. “And don’t forget the night before is New Year’s Eve.”
William agreed with his brother that going into the water is not that big a shock.
“In the summer, the water temperature is like between 50 and 60 in the early part of the summer, but the air is in the 70s and 80s,” said William.
“So that’s a bigger shock than going from cold air into cold water. I mean you know it’s cold water, but its not a tremendous shock like you’d think. It’s kind of like in the summer, when you reach down to get a beer out of a bucket of ice.”
One of the funniest things that happened to William was when he lost his bathing trunks a couple of years ago just as he was about to get out of the water.
“I felt something run past my leg — so I kicked it off,” William recalled.
“I looked down and saw it was my trunks, and I dove down to get them, but it was too late. I didn’t want to die. I knew had to come out. My brother, Bruce, went in that year, and he weighs maybe 200. He gave me his robe to put on, and it went about one-third around my body. At that point I didn’t care what showed. I knew I had to get the hell out of the water.”
Usually, the brothers said when they get out of the water, they put on sweat shirts and pants and sneakers and either warm up in cars, or they go to a bar with a fireplace.
“In 15 or 20 minutes, you feel fine,” said William. “You warm right up.”
Of course, the whiskey and tequila help, too.