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Ice challenge warms hearts

Holding bright-orange buckets filled with ice water, Newport Beach community members began to count down from 10.

Ralph Rodheim, chairman of the Balboa Village Merchants Assn., stood in front of the group of about 30 people who had assembled on the pavement outside the Newport Beach Athletic Club to participate in the ALS Assn.'s ice bucket challenge.

It wouldn't be Rodheim's first time being doused in chilly water. Like many others caught up in the charitable craze, Rodheim last week posted on Facebook a clip of himself taking up the challenge.

"I have recently been diagnosed with ALS, and I did the ice bucket challenge," the Balboa Island resident wrote in a message that also asked others to do likewise or donate to the association, as the campaign prescribes.

For Tim Shields, Rodheim's post was the first he had heard of his friend's diagnosis, which Rodheim received four months ago.

ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease, gradually causes neurons in the brain and spinal cord that control muscle movement to stop functioning. It has no known cure.

"It's kind of a private thing," Rodheim said Wednesday. "It was."

Shields and three other friends who knew Rodheim from the athletic club decided that they needed to complete the challenge too. The idea snowballed, turning the online viral sensation into a community event.

While other groups have similarly gathered for the cause nationwide, Newport Beach is perhaps the first city in Orange County to step up, said Jared Mullins, executive director of the association's Orange County chapter.

Those who arrived at 8 a.m. Wednesday in support of Rodheim represented his widespread involvement in the community. There were fellow members from the Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce and its commodores club, which helped promote the event. Several City Council members, familiar with his work to improve business in Balboa Village and as a former harbor commissioner, also turned out.

And there were friends, who knew of his love of boats, his past honor as a citizen of the year and his marketing expertise.

Councilman Tony Petros called the gathering an example of "the community wrapping around one of our own."

"The word got out that it was for Ralph and, you know," said Shields, shrugging and looking around at the crowd gathered in support.

And so, when the count reached zero, Rodheim was doused yet again, along with a small army of fellow participants and onlookers.

Such support has been the upside to learning he has the disease, Rodheim said, adding that he was especially thankful for his wife, Penny, who now helps him with daily tasks like buttoning his shirt.

Still, he noted, "It's not about me. It's about finding a cure and raising awareness."

Rodheim added that Augie Nieto of Corona del Mar has lived with the disease longer than he. Nieto has been actively involved in fundraising to help find a cure.

As of Wednesday, the association had received $31.5 million in donations since July 29, according a news release from the national nonprofit group. It raised $1.9 million during the same period last year, the release said.

A video of the event can be seen here.

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