Everyone's a winner

Everyone wins at Whidbey Island Challenge Series.

Oak Harbor resident Michael Rapp, 5, smiled with glee and held on tight as he zoomed down Barrington drive Saturday morning in a soapbox derby known as the Whidbey Island Challenge Series.

It was evident that the derby was a hit by the shouts, screams and hollers of excitement as participants made their way down the 200 yard soapbox derby course.

Oak Harbor resident Taylor Warren, 5, was very excited when she reached the finish line.

“I like to ride in the shiny cars and go pretty fast,” Warren said.

Words of shouted encouragement such as “good job” and “we’re proud of you” from the adoring crowd of derby watchers could be heard echoing off the nearby buildings, as proud parents and friends of the derby participants came out to watch the race.

This year’s Challenge Series brought out more than 40 child participants from all over Whidbey Island. The derby works by pairing up special needs children with volunteer co-drivers. The volunteer co-drivers are trained before the derby starts in how to maneuver the cars safely.

Participants put on helmets and donned Challenge Series t-shirts, reaching speeds up to 25 miles an hour.

Oak Harbor resident Tyler Nickerson, 13, paused to talk to his friend Jessica Barker at the head of the course, before jumping in to complete his duty as a volunteer driver.

“I am a Boy Scout and that is how I heard about the Challenge Series Soapbox Derby,” Nickerson said. “My dad brought the permission slip home for me so I could participate as a volunteer driver. It’s a lot of fun.”

The derby, which has been going on for about 23 years in other parts of Washington, moved to Oak Harbor in 1992 when it was sponsored by Puget Power. The Rotary Club of North Whidbey Sunrise took over the sponsorship in 1997.

Kit Maret, Challenge Series organizer, said that the Rotary Club sponsors the event as a community service project. It provides an activity for special-needs children and their friends and siblings to join together for a couple of hours of fun and excitement.

In the Challenge Series, all the children who participate are winners. Each child receives a medal and a bag of gifts as well as a photograph of them in the derby car, when they arrive at the finish line.

Oak Harbor resident Jessica Barker, 12, was proud to be the volunteer driver for her special needs brother.

“It’s so much fun because the kids actually get to ride in the cars with their volunteer co-driver. It is all worth it when you see the smiles on their faces and see that they are having a great time!” Barker said.

In addition, the timing of the derby is an important part in organizing the event. In the past, the Rotary has had contact with the Oak Harbor School District to recruit children to participate but the weather did not hold up as well during the school year. The Rotary then decided to move the derby to mid-August and since then, they have had better luck with great weather.

A partnership was made between the North Whidbey Sunrise Rotary and the local organization, Special Times 4 Special Kids, in order to draw more participants for the derby.

Special Times 4 Special Friends is an organization started by Oak Harbor residents Steve and Sherry Hoffmire.

“I think the Challenge Series is a lot of fun for the kids,” Steve Hoffmire said. “It is the one event that pairs the kids up with their typically developing peers and provides an opportunity to educate the community about special needs children and their families. We really enjoy it.”

The goal of the organization is to create a fun atmosphere for special needs children as well as to reach out to the parents, teachers and community that surround the children.

“Ever since we have had a partnership with the Special Times 4 Special Kids Organization, we have seen a great turnout of special needs children and their siblings,” Maret said. “We had a really great turnout this year, it could not have been done without all of our volunteers from the drivers and community volunteers to those at the Oak Harbor Public Works who made this event happen for the kids.”

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