First, you find a partner. Then you prepare to get up at 7 a.m. on a Saturday morning in the middle of the summer in South Florida. So you can walk, run and race up and down the streets of Wilton Manors, Fort Lauderdale, and Oakland Park completing remarkably divergent tasks to win a race against a dozen other teams of two, out-dueling them in such physical contests as kayaking upstream against the tide for two miles. Or perhaps simpler ones, like washing two cars for free at the Wilton Manors Car Wash.
“Well, that one wasn’t so easy,” Mark Martin of the AIDS Health Care Foundation, stated. “Last year, it was pouring, and we got there in the lead, but couldn’t find a sole to let us wash their car in the rain.” This year, one team lost an hour going to the wrong car wash.
It was probably just easier to find the blue light special that day in Kmart. But during the race, you had to get from Kmart to Scandals to the Dunkin Donuts on Andrews and do it without a car, bike, cell phone, or skateboard. You had to run, walk, hitch, and scratch with only 15 bucks in your pockets. Find someone to pick you up hitching on Oakland Park Boulevard in the middle of the day when you are dripping wet and sweating up a storm, or the weather isn’t cooperating.
During the walk from Scandals to Dunkin’ Donuts, the SFGN team of John Fugate and Dilan Hebert got caught in a torrential summer afternoon downpour. They were soaked and dripping wet, when they arrived at Dunkin, charged with the task of finding a customer to buy a dozen donuts.
Eventually finishing about fifth, the SFGN team encountered its most difficult challenge in what contestants declared the hardest task of the day: eating a monstrous, habanero filled grilled cheese sandwich near the end of the competition at the New York Grilled Cheese store on Wilton Drive in the Manors.
Nineteen years old, young, fit and healthy, Hebert could not handle the sandwich, most of it winding up in back of the restaurant in a huge bucket set aside for that purpose.
On the other hand, the next time the president of Broward House, Stacy Hyde, has to fill out a job resume; she can add a new skill set- proficient swallower. Her speed eating of the combustible grilled cheese sandwich allowed her to pass two other teams near the close of the race. She just scarfed those sandwiches down to the cheers of dozens of supporters, all being filmed for YouTube and posterity by Lear Barak, the shop’s mis-chef-ous owner.
Another frustration came for a veteran participant when they got to Pride Factory, and had to go through the entire store, trying to match a bar code with a t-shirt. “At least that spot was air conditioned,” said Dominic Grasso, 25, the elementary school teacher who won the race with his partner, behind a strong kayaking start.
Newcomers to the competition, he and his partner, Dave Santos, 30, knocked off veterans like Olivia Rodriguez, an accountant, who just fell too far behind with the kayaking wing. She and her partner, Fred Matter, a schoolteacher, represented the South Florida Pride Wind Ensemble. They probably did better when their task was counting the number of floorboards in Scandals Bar.
Said SFGN’s Fugate, “This thing was more a fitness challenge, not just a race from place to place. We had to walk miles and miles, finishing one task at Steel Gym and then finding a way to the Island City Park Preserve, to find an AIDS quilt.”
Following contestants through the race in the sun, seeing them deal with their daunting tasks, I encountered Olivia and Fred a third time, holding a sign saying, “I need a ride back to the Manors.” I asked them if I was even allowed to pick them up again. “Oh, we don’t care if we win,” Rodriguez said, “It’s a matter of pride. We want to finish for the volunteers that helped raise money for Broward House.”
So it was all day. Enthusiastic contestants braving the elements on a hot and wet summer day to raise money for a noble charity, ending it all with cold drinks passed out at the finish line by Carol Moran at 13 Even on Wilton Drive.
There was applause, humor, and bonding, as contestants reveled and remarked about their daylong experiences, from wayward kayaks to sudden rainstorms to pacing in the street trying to find the venues.
For Dominic Grasso and Don Santos, they can think about it on the cruise they won for finishing first.
The enthusiasm for the race remains high, but the contestants each of the past three years have diminished from 30 teams to 20 teams to only about a dozen showing for Saturday’s race, which still benefited Broward House, and required enormous community cooperation and participation from businessman and the city.
Volunteers waited for teams with water bottles, ready to pass on clues, as they went from the Wilton Manors Library to the Pride Center to Steel Gym or Manor Lanes.
Bowling balls or lifting weights, washing cars or paddling a canoe, it was a challenge in the sun for a good cause. The event was the devious brainchild of Terry DeCarlo, the enterprising marketing coordinator of Broward House, who spent six months planning the circuitous routes, daunting tasks and pleasant events. It was an accomplishment that helps make our community richer, more caring and loving.