LAKE GEORGE - "Let's go swimming," the crowd jamming Shepard Park Beach chanted on New Year's Day afternoon, as the announcer barked there were just a few minutes left for the first wave of swimmers to rush into the waters of Lake George for the annual New Year's Day Polar Plunge event.
Soon after, about 800 or so shrieking near-naked people of all ages stampeded into the water, and most all ran out seconds later. Others cavorted in the frigid waters for several minutes while others returned to the beach for the relative comfort of robes or towels.
After an initial dip, Eric Diem of Saratoga skipped into the water until it was thigh deep, then he took a sideways dive into the cold water.
"Wow, that was breathtaking," he said as he ran back to shore, cold water running off his body. "Like my name, man, Carpe Diem, seize the day, start the year anew."
Diem was one of a record number of swimmers participating in the annual polar plunge. The unparalleled number of swimmers necessitated three waves of plungers rushing into the water at half-hour intervals, a first-ever for the event. Plunge organizers credited the balmy 45-plus degree weather for the record turnout.
Near Diem on the beach was Eric Lucas, also of Saratoga. He said this was his first time he went polar swimming in 42 years. The last time he was in frigid waters, was as a youngster when his mother tossed him in Brant Lake in late winter as soon as the ice receded.
Not far away on the beach was a man dressed in a banana suit - Randy Hotaling of Amsterdam stood ready to jump in with the second wave of first-day revelers.
His friend Darci Novak of Broadalbin had recruited about eight of her friends to take the plunge.