Racers faced the finish line, eyes squinting east toward the merciless morning sun. The starter waved a black-and-white checkered flag and sent four helmeted heads down the 300-yard course on Southeast 24th Street. Skyline High School cheerleaders chanted, “Hey, racers, set the pace! Win this race!” at the start line. Members of the Skyline football team, who had lined the track with hay bales earlier in the day, now stood at the bottom of the incline as extra anti-collision insurance. Volunteers milled around the registration booth, checking participants in and chit-chatting with parents.
It was a beautiful day.
At the fifth annual Challenge Day Race in Sammamish Saturday, about 75 volunteers gave 16 participants with developmental disabilities the chance to compete in a soapbox derby where everyone comes out a winner.
“The race is actually developed so that every single driver wins a race,” said City Councilman and Rotarian Jack Barry. “Everyone ends up with a trophy.”
Barry volunteered along with more than 25 other members of the Rotary Club of Sammamish, the primary sponsor of the event since its inception. It started when Leo Finnegan, co-founder of the nonprofit advocacy group for the disabled called Life Enrichment Options, approached the Rotary Club to see if they would sponsor the event. Other Rotary Clubs have also partnered with LEO to put on Challenge Day Races — Issaquah held its annual race earlier this summer, and there are also races in Oak Harbor, and, starting this summer, Spokane.
“I really believe in giving back to the community, and this just plain makes me feel good,” said Mark Buick, Sammamish Rotarian and event chair.
Dozens of other volunteers joined the Rotary Club to cheer on the participants, flip their cars around at the end of each race and play games with those waiting to hop in a car. Along with the Skyline cheerleaders and football team, Athletes for Kids, an organization that pairs high school athletes with kids with disabilities, and two volunteer programs from Mercer Island worked at the derby. Congressman Dave Reichert came to open the races and support the racers. Reichert has attended the Challenge Day Race for several years, usually with his godson, Kyle, who is developmentally disabled.
“It’s a great opportunity for these kids to have fun and have a little competition,” Reichert said.
Sue Foy, Reichert’s Deputy District Director and Kyle’s mother, said that the event is a priority for the congressman.
“We readjusted his schedule so he could be here today,” she said.
Parents said the derby really allowed the developmentally disabled racers to experience something they wouldn’t normally be able to do.
“It’s good to see him enjoy life the way a little boy should be able to,” said Nicole Cady, mother of an 8-year-old son with disabilities.
This was the second year that her son, Josh, participated. Finnegan said that not only do racers keep coming back, but volunteers do as well. Every year, they seem to be telling their friends to come along.
“We usually end up with more volunteers,” Finnegan said. “It just seems to grow.”
Volunteers and participants feed off each other’s energy to make the day successful.
“Some of these young people tell us that at the end of this day, they look forward to (the next one) every day for the rest of the year,” Barry said. “When we, as participants and sponsors, hear that kind of gratification, it’s a real shot of adrenaline.”
To read about Issaquah’s recent Challenge Day Race, click here.