Bone-chilling fundraiser this Saturday

Sweetheart Splash an annual favorite at Rockford dam

by BETH ALTENA

Sweet 16 has never been as cold as ice before, but this year’s Sweetheart Splash at the dam in downtown Rockford is as sure to thrill as it is to chill. Individual, couple and group jumpers are invited to prove their love—or nerve—as they take the plunge into the Rogue River, often in costume and with skits and freebies for the audience. Participants must pre-register by 10 a.m. the day of the event, but the big show begins at 1 p.m. and lasts about 90 minutes. Last year’s 15th annual Splash had a record 70-plus jumpers, including the Rockford Fire Department, who stripped for the crowd before hitting the water.

Celebrity judges decide the winners in each category. Returning from last year is Matt Kirkwood of Storm Team 8, who performed an “impromptu” plunge after raising $1,500. Organizer Lisa Boyd said she believes he might again be enticed to show some skin before going in.

“Standing with Matt Kirkwood, egging him on to strip, was rough,” Boyd joked. “As soon as we announced he might go in, out came the $20 bills.”

Boyd, a former Rockford Rotarian, and current Rotarian Connie Taylor have been co-chairing the event for a decade. They noted that the event is fun, but also for a good cause. The Splash was started as a fundraiser for North Kent Community Services (NKCS), which is experiencing record requests for aid in Kent County. Taylor, who is also on the NKCS board, asks the public to participate in a blanket-and-outerwear drive by donating new or gently used items. Splash donations last year, either from passing the bucket in the crowd, or by jumper donations, totaled over $7,500.

“We do have a lot of fun, but we are also here for a reason,” Boyd stated.

Over the years there have been a marriage proposal during Splash, well-organized skits by groups, fun costumes and plenty of music. John Decker and Tom Pearce went in as the Blues Brothers several years, and the entire Rockford Board of Education took the plunge in

Ram-themed boxer shorts to raise money for a defibrillator.

Boyd said every year the Algoma dive team is on hand to make sure jumpers come out of the water safe and sound to retire to the onsite hot tub. Local businesses give the crowd more incentive to stay with free giveaways. This year, expect free hot cocoa from a local church.

Boyd said that every year the City of Rockford has to break the ice at the jump site so divers can get into the water. “We always have to break the ice. Sometimes they have to come back after breaking the ice and break it again in the morning. It’s always freezing.”

Boyd said temperatures have been at least as low as 20 degrees, with a brisk wind adding an extra arctic touch. She has taken the plunge the year she was Rockford Rotary Club’s president, and said it is an experience hard to describe. “It takes your breath away, that’s for sure. Would I do it again? No… maybe at gunpoint.”

Entrants must be at least 15 years of age and register up to the start of the event Feb. 12, 2011. Entrants between the ages of 15-18 must have a parent/guardian present at time of registration. Registration forms are available at Rockford Community Federal Credit Union located at 3 N. Monroe St., downtown Rockford. Cost of participation is $5 per person. Groups are limited to 10 people. T-shirts are available for $10 each.

The Rotary Club of Rockford is a community and world service organization made up of local business people, and holds weekly lunch and breakfast meetings. For more information, visit their website at www.rockfordmirotary.org.

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