LAKE GEORGE -- Annette Emerick stood on Shepard Park Beach in a bathing suit Sunday afternoon, 15 minutes before rushing into Lake George’s 34-degree water.

It was the third consecutive year the Amityville native took part in the annual New Year’s Day Polar Plunge. And while it wasn’t cold outside, she expected the balmy air temperatures to exaggerate the shock of the near-icy lake

"I’ve got to climatize myself," she said, standing at the water’s edge. "Last year was just like this and the water felt like ice cubes."

Organizers credited the unseasonably warm temperatures for the roughly 2,000 participants in the 39th annual plunge.

But this year’s plunge was, for the first time, accompanied with a festival-like atmosphere. Beat-driven Latin music and Zumba demonstrations gave the 1,000 non-swimming spectators to Shepard Park something to do before the first of three waves of 700 plungers challenged the elements for a New Year’s Day thrill.

"It’s so warm. What a great day for it," said Mary Ryan, a New Jersey resident who owns property on Lake George. "We come every year to cheer on friends and the other crazy people."

While some swimmers donned their usual swimwear, others took the opportunity to take on new identities or make a political statement.

Ghostbusters and the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, Roman soldiers with plastic armor and swords, and a group of "Ron Paul for President" sign-carrying college students were among those testing the limits of their nervous system.

"It’s gotten bigger and bigger every year," said organizer Linda Duffy prior to the event.

When the clock struck 2 p.m., the swimmers rushed the water, and a roar of screams and laughter erupted.

"Its like natural high," said third-year swimmer Jim Weaver from Rotterdam.

This year, swims at 2:30 and 3 p.m. were added to better control the swelling crowds.


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