For nearly twenty years the Grayling Knights of Columbus has teamed up with the Marathon committee to conduct the Special Olympics race. In this heartwarming event, professional Marathon paddlers are paired up with area Special Olympians to paddle a short looped course upstream and back down in an aluminum canoe. It is not a long endurance race like the one held the next day, but to these 25 or so very special participants it is far more important. To them it is more than just a minute or two of fun; it is something they look forward to for a whole year. It is their time to be part of the action!
If you have never had the opportunity to watch Melinda Skagerberg soak Dwight Walker or see JP Ludwig drench Gary Aprea then you have missed out on a really neat experience. Sure they don’t run down Peninsular Avenue carrying their canoes, but I guarantee you they have a whole lot more fun. Seeing their huge smiles when they cross the finish line or when they receive their participation medal makes this a great event.
This event has created many long lasting friendships. These include Jimmy Roman paddling with Bill Torongo along with Wendy Allison paddling with Jeff DeFeo. Each year these Marathon paddlers present their partner with a t-shirt recognizing their participation. Wendy Allison even attends the Marathon start and finish line to cheer on her partner, Jeff DeFeo. Although the friendships all might not be as strong as these few, you never go a few steps without seeing pictures being taken, stories being told and memories being made.
Each year the Marathon Committee donates a portion of the Marathon entry fees to Michigan Special Olympics. To date such donations have totaled close to $20,000. The check is presented during the awards ceremony held at Penrod’s. This ceremony consists of a small cookout allowing the Special Olympian a greater opportunity to interact with the other paddlers.