There are some groups that exist solely for the purpose of jumping in freezing cold bodies of water. The Coney Island Polar Bear Club, for example, is the oldest winter bathing organization in the United States. The annual New Year’s Swim routinely attracts hundreds of participants, and thousands of onlookers.
But those who voluntarily jump into freezing temperatures do so with a group of people, in water that has not yet started to freeze over. It’s mostly good fun with little consequence. For those who happen to accidentally fall in an icy lake, the consequences are far more dire. Illinois mother Cathy Medernach understands that well.
Cathy Medernach and her 8-year-old son Caden were out walking their dog Bailey when they got into trouble.
It was well below freezing in Aurora, Illinois, that day last December, and the lake behind their house had a thin layer of ice. That didn’t stop their 11-year-old Golden Retriever from trying to chase off some ducks perched on the thin ice.
As soon as Bailey reached the lake, he fell through the ice.
Medernach acted quickly and enlisted Caden to help push the family canoe into the lake. But as soon as she tried to paddle towards the family pooch, her paddle hit a patch of ice and she toppled over into the freezing water as well.
Medernach fell out of her canoe into a lake of ice water.
“It just takes everything out of you, it took all of my energy out,” Medernach said, describing the feeling of hitting the cold water.
“Life was passing before my eyes, I was thinking, ‘I’m going to die in this water, as well as my dog,'” Medernach told WGN9 News.
But once she’d recovered from the shock, she luckily managed to climb back into the canoe.
Meanwhile, Caden had rushed inside the house and was on the phone.
Without a hint of panic in his voice, Caden called his father and asked “When are you coming home?”
And when his dad told him it would be a few hours, Caden told said he should probably come home now because:
“Mom and Bailey are in the lake and I don’t know how to get them out.”
Caden’s father told him to call 911. Throughout his conversation with police dispatch, he remained cool under pressure, relaying information between his half-frozen mother and emergency services.
“The police say you need to come back to the shore!” Caden is heard yelling in the recording.
Police managed to get Medernach out of the water quickly, but getting Bailey out was more of a challenge.
Emergency workers had to deploy special equipment and wear special suits to withstand the freezing water. But after about 30 minutes in the ice cold water, Bailey was brought back to shore safely. Fortunately, all ended well.
Caden received a lot of praise for his calm demeanor and taking the necessary steps to save his mother and his dog, though he said afterwards that he was scared at the time.
While he went back to school the next day, Medernach and Bailey stayed inside to unwind in front of the fire after their adventures the previous day.