Marathon racers paddle with Special Olympians during annual event
Carlie Wilson | Staff Writer
The last week of July is a busy time for Grayling residents. Town is jam-packed with people buzzing about the AuSable River Canoe Marathon. All through the week Grayling is home to events such as Kid’s Day, the H.U.P. Race, Time Trials, and the Business Relays, but perhaps none compares to the heartwarming event that takes place the night before the Marathon: the Special Olympics Challenge.
For the last 20 years, the Grayling Knights of Columbus and the AuSable Marathon Committee have teamed up to conduct the Special Olympics race.
In the event, AuSable River Canoe Marathon paddlers – current racers and former Marathon competitors – are paired with local Special Olympians to paddle a short looped course in an aluminum canoe.
The race lasts only a few minutes, but to some, the one or two minute paddle is an event they patiently wait for all year.
For Melinda Skagerberg, a Special Olympian for over two decades, her favorite part of the race is: “Splashing Dwight, I’m really good at it!”
Skagerberg has participated in the event for many years, and enjoys paddling with the other racers. Her favorite paddler to race with is Dwight Walker. Skagerberg said she enjoys paddling, soaking Walker, and participating in the event.
AuSable Marathon Committee member John Cherven came up with the idea for the event after helping out with the Special Olympics committee based in Mount Pleasant.
“I’ve been involved with the Marathon Committee for about 25 years, and I’m also involved with the Knights of Columbus, who happens to sponsor this event. At the time, it just seemed like the natural thing to do,” said Cherven. “My daughter and I have been involved with the Michigan Special Olympics organization down in Mount Pleasant for a number of years, and this event seemed like the perfect opportunity to let those who can’t participate in the Marathon participate in a new way.”
Cherven does not have family that participates in the race but “greatly enjoys working with the Special Olympians here and in Mount Pleasant,” he said.
Each year the Marathon Committee donates a portion of the Marathon entry fees to Michigan Special Olympics.
“Each year in the past we’ve donated 10 percent of the Marathon’s entry fee money, but for the last eight or 10 years we’ve opted to donate $1,000 from the Marathon’s entry fee money to Michigan’s Special Olympics program,” said Cherven.
The check is presented during the awards ceremony held at Penrod’s. The awards event consists of a small cookout where hot dogs are served. The cookout serves as a way to let the Special Olympians have an opportunity to interact with other Olympians and AuSable River Canoe Marathon paddlers.
For more information on the event, check out the Special Olympics tab of the official Marathon website: www.ausablecanoemarathon.org.