Breaking News Bar

Steeleville Polar Plunge to celebrate 10th year

  • Rachael and Leonard Rodowick III with their sons Leonard Joseph "L.J." (left) and Henry.

    Rachael and Leonard Rodowick III with their sons Leonard Joseph "L.J." (left) and Henry.
    Courtesy of the Rodowick family

By Pete Spitler
updated: 1/4/2018 5:16 PM

For nine years now, people have been jumping into the frigid waters of Wathen's Lake on Rockcastle Road near Steeleville in the second week of January.

As the Steeleville Polar Plunge prepares to celebrate its 10th year on January 13, one of its founding members, Travis Schaber, recently reflected on the event's history.

"We started this without any idea of what it would turn into and it blew up and kind of maintained," Schaber said. "It's something where we could give some people some money to make their lives better as they need it."

The event became a fundraiser for people in need several years ago and started out in 2009 as merely an idea when Schaber, Jeff Mulholland and Dustin Wathen decided to jump into a body of water in the dead of winter.

The next year, Schaber, Mulholland, Wathen, Chelsea Bradley, Jennie Frederking and Jeremy Lohman all took the plunge in front of a crowd of about 25 people.

"I always say it's my favorite day of the year every year," said Schaber, who estimated the event has raised close to $50,000 in its history. "Two or three times we've had to cut through some ice. Coleman (Lawn Equipment) now donates the chainsaw if we need it."

This year, the event is to benefit a 7-year-old Belleville-area boy who is a close relative of the Wathen family.

Leonard Joseph "L.J." Rodowick IV, was born with a soft cleft palate, but otherwise seemed normal and healthy.

When L.J. reached six to seven months of age, his parents, Rachael and Leonard Rodowick III, noticed something was not quite right with their son and sought out answers.

It is suspected L.J. suffered some type of brain damage either in uteroization or during birth, which resulted in Hypotonia (commonly known as floppy baby syndrome) and Encephalopathy (abnormal brain function or structure).

Physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy followed every week for three to four days per week while his parents searched for a diagnosis after every test - including X-rays, MRIs, CT scans and genetic testing - came back normal.

"At one point, our neurologist told us that sometimes families search and search for a diagnosis and there just isn't one; sometimes kids don't fit into a certain diagnosis and unfortunately for us that is exactly where we fell," Rachael Rodowick said in a post on the Polar Plunge's Facebook group.

L.J.'s parents told their doctor they could not get the proper therapies or equipment for their son without a proper diagnosis, so he was diagnosed with cerebral palsy.

Since his birth, L.J. has gone through several surgeries. He had his cleft palate repaired, ear tubes replaced three times and undergone bilateral heel cord lengthening.

L.J. is wheelchair-bound, but his family is optimistic he will walk one day with assistance. His parents are hopeful the funds raised by the Polar Plunge could help the family purchase a new wheelchair for him, as well as a new car seat since he has outgrown the ones sold in stores.

"We would also like to purchase a vehicle with a wheelchair lift and enough space for everything L.J. needs to have to take with us," Rachael Rodowick said.

The Polar Plunge is scheduled for 2 p.m., but usually occurs around 2:30 p.m. after registration and participants wander outside. A 50/50 and silent auction accompanies the event, with a private show from "We've Got It Covered" among the items being auctioned off.

"I'd like to see people come out and have a good time and party for a good cause," Schaber said. "A big thank you to the Wathens, Wally and Vickie, for putting up with us every year."