Local athletes and volunteers help make wishes come true

The 38th Make-A-Wish Triathlon at Sea Colony last weekend provided, yet again, an amazing opportunity to participate in an event with the purpose of bringing joy to sick kids and their families.

Special to the Coastal Point • Christina Weaver: Adam Reese, former wish-kid, now a Make-A-Wish volunteer, with 7 year old Lauren Grove whose parents both participated in the triathlonSpecial to the Coastal Point • Christina Weaver
Adam Reese, former wish-kid, now a Make-A-Wish volunteer, with 7 year old Lauren Grove whose parents both participated in the triathlon

First, it is a thrill to be in the midst of 750 athletes who, as well as spending all the necessary time training to perform their personal best, also managed to raise close to $300,000. The athletes ranged in age from 14 to 70 and in size from husky to petite. For many, it was their first triathlon, and they were hoping just to finish. For others, it was a fun event for a great cause before another international Ironman-style test of endurance.

Second, it makes one proud to watch local professionals, efficiently and without fanfare, doing their jobs to ensure the health, safety and nutrition of each participant. There are the Sussex County emergency amateur radio operators who “are the eyes and ears for every registrant,” ensuring that if assistance is needed, it will arrive quickly. There are nurses from Beebe Hospital, and EMT’s and fire department personnel, as well as state police and bicycle repair people. And, once again, Bethany Blues was there to provide a delicious picnic.

For many athletes, it is the 0.93 mile ocean swim that provides the most challenge. After all, most come from inland areas, where their local pool is hardly a match for the mighty Atlantic. Sea Colony’s Beach Patrol captain, Dave Griffith, and his crew of lifeguards from many of our local beaches has the responsibility for marking the course and watching out for all the swimmers. There were guards in the water on paddleboards and guards posted on the beach. Lewes sent its fire-boat, and Bethany Beach provided its rescue watercraft. They were all needed.

This year, the sky was misty and the ocean was fickle. For the first swimmers, those who registered with the best previous times and were the strongest competitors, the ocean was kind. They ran out from the surf, undressing from their wetsuits as they ran through the shower and hopped on their bicycles, as though it was all in a day’s work. But by the time the less experienced and slower swimmers were halfway into their swim, the undertow turned against them and the waves grew higher.

“I was swimming as hard as I could and going nowhere,” gasped one man to his anxious family, who had waited a couple of hours for his appearance and then saw him knocked down by wave after wave as he struggled ashore with the help of a guard.

But still they joked.

“I thought I’d go past Bermuda on the way,” said one participant. “I’m just giving the others a head start to make it fair,” said another. And, as they walked to their bikes, almost ready for a 25.5-mile ride west toward Roxana, the leaders had already started their 6.3-mile run south past Fenwick Towers.

And thirdly, after the thrill and pride of watching the athletes and professionals, came the camaraderie of more than 100 volunteers. They had signed up, not knowing what their task would be, but knowing it was for a good cause. The jobs included registration, providing directions, manning checkpoints along the route and offering water, putting medals around the neck of each finisher, pouring Budweiser beer and helping entertain the athletes’ children. All volunteers knew their special role was to cheer on each and every athlete, and all took their jobs seriously, yet in the spirit of fun.

Emily Schwab from Fenwick Island was one of the volunteers assigned to a checkpoint on the run.

“I loved it that our coworkers were all ages, from retirees to high-schoolers,” she said of her fellow volunteers. “Everyone had their own reason for being there, but all had Make-A-Wish in mind.”

Make-A-Wish was particularly important to two volunteers: Tara Baldwin and Adam Reese. Each is now in their 20s, and both had been “wish kids” themselves.

Baldwin, who lives in Washington, D.C., addressed the crowd at the award ceremony.

“I developed congestive heart failure and have had two heart transplants. Before the first, when I was so sick in the hospital, I was asked what I would like for a wish and I said, ‘a computer.’ Then two wish-granters brought it to my room and gave me a party. I knew then my wish would bring me luck. Now, I volunteer as a wish-granter myself and have helped make wishes come true for 14 kids.”

Adam Reese had surgery for a brain tumor when he was 12. He had always liked puppets and puppeteering, so his wish was to visit the set of “Sesame Street” in New York with his family.

“It was an amazing week. I spent a whole day at the Muppet Mansion and another at the studio. I accidentally met Bill Cosby and went to a David Letterman show. The best parts were hanging out with the writers, puppeteers and actors, and having my own private lesson in how to make puppets come alive.”

Reese now lives locally and works as a program instructor for disabled adults at Easter Seals in Georgetown. He has an extensive puppet collection and also enjoys magic and making animals from balloons. His talent was put to good use at the triathlon’s kids’ tent.

“I saw an article in the Coastal Point about Make-A-Wish needing more volunteers in this area as wish-granters,” said Reese. “I called immediately. I wanted to give back. I had an amazing wish and want others to have the same.”

So far, Reese and a partner have three wish-kids in the Millsboro area that they’re helping: one has just gone to Disney World; one will be going to the Daytona 500; and one is waiting to find out just when she will get to swim with dolphins.

At the conclusion of the event, Maura Harty, president of Make-A-Wish Foundation of the Mid-Atlantic, thanked everyone for their participation, and especially Rob Vigorito, the race director and head cheerleader.

“Each wish costs about $8,500 to fulfill,” she noted. “Thanks to this triathlon, around 40 kids who are battling illness will experience the joy of having their very own wish come true. I hope to see you all next year.”

To learn more about the Make-A-Wish organization or in volunteer opportunities, call (302) 475-9474.