SPIRIT LAKE, Iowa — Cousins Riley and Gannon Rockman have amassed many memories together on the ice over the past decade of sharing their ice fishing interest together.
The northwest Iowa teenagers quickly agreed that their Dec. 27 ice fishing excursion lands among the top of most memorable, as they were forced to let their life-saving instincts take over.
The day had started like many others for the cousins. Riley, 16, and Gannon, 15, were enjoying their winter break from Sibley-Ocheyedan High School together at their family’s Triboji Beach lake cabin.
It was afternoon and the pair were ice fishing on the lagoon when they’d noticed a man walking a baby stroller with two cats wrapped up in blankets. They’d assumed the man, in his mid-50s to early 60s, had a cabin around the neighborhood, as they’d seen him pushing his cats in the stroller before.
Eventually, the man approached the teenagers and chatted with them about ice fishing. Upon leaving, he pushed the stroller out of the lagoon area and back onto shore before heading out onto Lake Okoboji.
According to Gannon, the man walked right out onto an ice heave, which produces dangerously thin ice.
“All of a sudden we heard ‘help, help, help,’ Gannon said. “Then we took out on a dead sprint.”
Gannon immediately called for help while Riley cautiously made his way out to the man struggling in about 10 feet of ice cold water about 40 to 50 feet off the bank.
“I got on my knees when I got to him,” Riley said. “I took my gloves off and pulled him out and walked him back to shore.”
Gannon was waiting with a blanket, but the man was more concerned about his cats that had also fallen through the ice. Riley was able to rescue them — to the best of the boys’ knowledge, one cat survived.
The Rockman cousins stayed with the man to try to calm him down until paramedics arrived.
As of earlier this week the cousins still didn’t know the man’s name they’d saved, but are hopeful to track him down to check on how he’s recovered.
During the cousins’ approximately 10 years of enjoying ice fishing together, last week’s rescue was a new experience.
“We’ve had some little stuff when walking on the shore and our foot goes into the water,” Gannon said about breaking through the ice.
“It’s not something you see everyday,” he added.
Even though Riley nor Gannon fell through the ice and they’re always well prepared, Riley said their interest in fishing is a lifestyle they plan to continue more cautiously after their recent experience.
“We’re not done fishing,” Gannon added. “This just makes us more aware of our surroundings and how we can be cautious.”
Gannon is the son of Daren Rockman and Amy and Rian Vos. Riley is the son of Julie Rockman, and Todd Rockman and Trisha Hengeveld. Their grandparents are Randy and Carol Rockman.