Skip to Content

SPECIAL REPORT: Youngest Iowa wish hero kayaks entire Cedar River for Make-A-Wish Iowa

Remaining Ad Time Ad - 00:00

WATERLOO, Iowa (KWWL) - A 9-Year-Old Waterloo native wants to be a hero for someone special.

Liam Winninger raised thousands for Make-A-Wish Iowa, all intended to grant a wish for an Iowan.

The plan to achieve Liam's goal started with a father-son kayak trip down the Cedar River. The trip ended up becoming a nearly 20 day trip to raise money for Make-A-Wish Iowa.

Liam and his Father, Ben Winninger, have never been on a trip this long down the Cedar River.

"We were just chatting it up at the house, what would it be like to head down the Cedar River? That'd be pretty cool," Ben said.

Liam saw this as an opportunity to give back.

"My goal is to give a sick kid, a wish," Liam said.

"He did all this himself, he started searching, and landed on Make-A-Wish and thought gosh, wouldn't it be cool to make a wish?" Ben said.

The father-son duo prepared for the long journey by packing the necessities.

"We had those kayaks loaded down with tents, and all that cooking gear, the food and the water," Ben said.

The journey down the river brought them closer to granting a wish, but the work was cut out for them.

In order to kayak start to finish, the pair had to cover nearly 340 miles of river starting them in southern Minnesota.

The Winningers, though, are no strangers to life on the water.

"We're sailors, and every year we do a big trip in January. This year we sailed from Belize to Guatemala," Ben said.

Battling tough white caps in the Gulf of Mexico would be considered easier than kayaking the Cedar River.

"This is definitely more challenging." Ben said.

"When I get tired, I hook up to daddy, and he would pull me a little bit. All I have to say is engage auto-pilot." Liam said.

There's lots of support behind Liam's goal, there's even a pit crew making sure supplies and the kayaks are flowing smooth.

"Fortunately we got a great pit crew, his little sisters and his mommy, have been awesome meeting us at each dam to help us portage around," Ben said.

Liam first raised $2,500 making him the youngest wish hero in Iowa. Much like Liam's passion to grant a wish, the donations didn't stop, the total doubled the original $2,500 amount.

"To grant a wish in Iowa, it's a little over $13,000. If we could hit something like that and make a whole wish come true that would be pretty tremendous," Ben said.

Many have kept up with the father-son adventure through Facebook. Liam receiving encouragement from other kids in Iowa.

"They say things like it's really cool that you want to help another kid do something really cool," Liam said.

After many selfies and nights under the stars, Liam and Ben completed their journey, ending up on the Mississippi River.

Ben so proud of his son Liam reminds kids, heroes don't need to wear capes, but sometimes it just takes a kayak.

"Get out and do it, especially with your kids you know? You only get your kids for so long in your house. Just get in there and do things like that," Ben said.

The duo now is recovering after the long journey at home, and wait for what's next. Make-A-Wish Iowa gave the pair until the end of July to reach their goal of $10,000.

Click here to donate towards Liam's goal with Make-A-Wish Iowa.

“We have been so inspired by Liam’s fundraising efforts as Iowa’s youngest Wish Hero! It has been incredible to follow his kayaking journey while he raises awareness for our organization. For over 30 years, Make-A-Wish® Iowa has granted the wishes of critically ill children in Iowa. These experiences help kids replace fear with confidence, anxiety with hope, and sadness with joy as they fight their illness. This year, demand for wishes is even greater. Liam’s efforts will help ensure no eligible wish child has to wait for their wish to be granted, once it is safe to do so.”

Make-A-Wish Iowa Vice President of Mission Delivery, Rachel Reams
Author Profile Photo

Vinny Lowerre

Producer & Multimedia Journalist

Skip to content