AURORA | It was about 21 degrees Tuesday as 63 people stripped down to bathing suits and charged into Cayuga Lake behind St. Patrick's Church in Aurora.
The annual Aurora Polar Bear Plunge attracted not only those who ran into the lake, but also a crowd of amused onlookers and supporters who carried warm towels and clothes with which to swaddle the plungers.
The event is in its 23rd year, said Nancie Tengi-Saphara, the plunge's creator and organizer. She has turned the plunge into a fundraiser for the Philip A. Murphy Award, which is given to a graduating high school student who is a junior firefighter with the Aurora Fire Department.
The scholarship is named after Murphy, a resident and former firefighter who passed away. The figure for the total amount of money raised this year was not immediately available.
The snow was flying on New Year's Day and conditions were so bad that longtime plunge snow plower Ronny Jones, who's been plowing the church driveway for the plungers for 23 years, got the plow stuck at the lake's edge.
Half-dressed prospective plungers were trying to shove him out and back up the driveway before the plunge.
Plunge veterans stood in the snow, sipping beers and talking about past years when they did it.
"I come down with my brothers and friends," said Dennis Rossbach, of Scipio. "You get up, you don't want to go, but it's peer pressure. You've got to go."
Tommy Gill, of Scipio Center, said he wasn't planning to go in the water this year, but at the last minute, surrounded by people who were preparing for the dip, he tore off his coat and got ready to go in.
Todd Robertson, of Syracuse, said Tuesday was his first time at the Aurora Polar Bear Plunge.
"It was better than I thought," he said after the plunge. "It all happened so quickly. You've got to take the plunge and then get out as fast as you can."
Sarah Homick, of Aurora, was on Tengi-Saphara's swim team at Southern Cayuga High School when she was a student and has been doing the plunge for about 16 years.
"It's a thrill, a tradition," she said.
Caitlin Rejman, of Venice Center, who also used to swim with Tengi-Saphara, has done the plunge for a few years with good friend Luke and said it's exhilarating.
She said one year she was sick but went to the plunge anyway.
"My mom told me not to do it and I said I was just going to root for my friends," Rejman said. "But my picture was in the paper and my mom saw it. I was caught. It's been a tradition ever since."