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AURORA — More than 30 people — some for the first time, others with more than a decade of experience under their belts — stormed into Cayuga Lake at noon on New Year's Day to welcome 2019 with a splash.

When Zack VanOrman woke up this morning, he didn't plan to take the plunge. But he changed his mind when he saw his dad, Chris, wrote a Facebook post announcing he was going to do it this year.

"It was spontaneous," Zack said. "I was just like, 'yeah, let's do it.'"

A first time for both him and his dad, Zack said his only game plan to prepare for the impending chill was to "keep the adrenaline going."

"I've been wanting to do it for three years," Chris said. "Kind of regretting it now," he said, laughing, as a strong wind blew across the white-capped waves on Cayuga Lake.

The 34 people who took the plunge this year shivered in the 36 degree weather, wrapped up in robes, blankets and winter gear as they awaited the countdown to prepare to run into the lake. 

"It's just a big thrill, it's something crazy to do at the beginning of the year," said Sarah Homick.

Homick first took the plunge in 1998, and got involved because her Southern Cayuga High School swimming coach, Nancie Tengi Saphara, was the one who started the tradition in 1991.

This year, Homick dedicated her plunge to her father, Ron Jones, who has served Aurora's volunteer fire department for 63 years. Her father wasn't able to attend or volunteer at the plunge this year because he's sick in the hospital, Homick said. So when Jones asked if Homick was jumping in, she gave him a definite yes.

"It was important to do it for him," she said, adding that she planned to visit him at the hospital after warming up a bit.

Saphara did the plunge herself for 25 years, and has continued to organize the event since then. As an Aurora Fire Department and ambulance volunteer at the time in 1991, the departments also supported Saphara's endeavor by being present and have been there every year since.

Each year, the plunge is also an opportunity to raise money for and thank the fire department, Saphara said. In the past, hundreds of dollars have been raised, but this year the plunge only raised about $35. Saphara said due to a transition in leadership there wasn't as much "pump up" this year, but she hopes those donations will increase again in the future.

While she still plans to attend the plunge at least two more years to hit 30 years of tradition, Saphara is passing the leadership baton of the plunge over to Homick and Adam Rossbach, another one of her former student-athletes from the swim team.

Rossbach said he also took his first plunge in 1998 as a senior in high school — because some girls he had crushes on at the time were doing it. He remembered that year being so cold that a hole was cut through the ice on the lake for participants to jump in. He "wised up for about 10 years" before doing the plunge again in 2008, he said, and has done it each year since.

After coming out of the lake Rossbach felt "great," noting that the plunge "gets your blood pumping" and is perhaps the quickest cure for a New Year's Eve hangover.

Rossbach and Homick thanked both Saphara for starting the tradition and the volunteer crews on the scene to keep people safe. They plan to keep the tradition alive as long as they can.

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Staff writer Megan Ehrhart can be reached at (315) 282-2244 or megan.ehrhart@lee.net. Follow her on Twitter @MeganEhrhart.

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