Special Olympians compete in the canoe challenge at the AuSable River Canoe Marathon

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GRAYLING – For the 32nd year, Special Olympics of Michigan has partnered with the AuSable River Canoe Marathon to bring Special Olympics athletes into the festivities.

The annual Special Olympics Canoe Challenge took place on Friday as Special Olympics athletes teamed up with marathon paddlers to get out on the water.

“They’re talking about next year as they start getting into the canoe for this year,” said Colin Hunter, a marathon paddler. “It’s just a special thing. They really appreciate it and the amount of smiles we see as paddlers is really nice. So over the last 10 years I’ve paddled with different partners along the way and it was a great experience.

“To see the same people coming back year after year and the smiles when they get on the boat or receive their awards is so heartwarming,” said event organizer John Cherven.

For some participants, the fun is getting their partner to soak more than the paddle itself.

“Melinda Skagerburg and Dwight Walker, her main goal is to make Dwight as wet as possible every year,” said event organizer Lexi Cherven. “She doesn’t care about the paddle, just that he gets soaked.”

“Yeah, [I’ve paddled] with Dwight,” Skagerburg said with a laugh. “Every year I make it wet!”

The event gives Special Olympics athletes a chance to compete in front of large crowds as the Special Olympics Canoe Challenge takes place during a break in the AuSable River Canoe Marathon Time Trials.

“It’s really busy and loud. I think they see the response from the Special Olympians as the crowd gets louder,” Lexi Cherven said. “So they get more excited and it feeds off of each other.

I just recommend people to come and try it. It’s so much fun, once you see it once, you’ll come back every year.”

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