Team Westin celebrates their win, above, as 32 kayaks competed in eight different heats, below, at Gibney Beach.
Hawksnest Bay — Hundreds of people packed Oppenheimer Pavillion for a day of fun in the sun for a worthwhile cause on Sunday, July 27, for the fourth annual St. John Chaotic Kayak race.
The event featured 32 teams of three — two paddlers and one gunner — battling it out for the coveted Golden Paddle while raising money for Team River Runner’s U.S. Virgin Island program. Teams were able to buy five seconds of head start time for every $100 raised over the entry fee. Head start times were allowed in the first two rounds of the race, but not in the final.
After close competition all afternoon, the teams from High Tide, Westin, Sadie Sea and Skinny Legs lined up in the final round with Team Westin cruising to victory. While the Westin team celebrated their win, everyone on the beach celebrated the announcement of the day’s fundraising effort which totaled $38,640.
The funds will go to bring wounded veterans to St. John for week of health, healing and paddling with Team River Runner’s USVI Program. Team River Runner was founded a decade ago at Walter Reed Army Medical Center by Washington D.C. area kayak enthusiast and special education teacher Joe Mornini.
Today there are TRR programs across the country, many of which were founded and are run by veterans who joined the program first at Walter Reed. TRR has been hosting trips to the Cinnamon Bay Campground on Love City’s North Shore for five years. The USVI program is entirely funded by the Chaotic Kayak event, which broke its own fundraising record this year, explained TRR USVI program coordinator John Schuld.
“We raised $38,640 this year which is the most yet,” said Schuld. “Last year did about $32,000 and I would credit the increase to the individual fundraising that the teams did. We also did more food this year which sold out.”
“We had beautiful weather again and I would there at least several hundred people who came out,” said Schuld, who organized the event with this wife Brandi Schuld. “I was really pleased with the turnout.”
With several years of experience under his belt, Schuld and his crew of volunteers — which included event referee Staff Sergeant Shelton Gore — were able to run 32 boats in eight heats in one hour.
Eight Heats, 32 Boats
“This was the first race that we had eight heats and 32 boats and we completed it on one hour because we had veterans running it,” Schuld said. “It was an all veteran run race. It was a well oiled machine led by Staff Sergeant/referee Shelton Gore.”
Gore was accompanied by three fellow TRR veterans of the St. John program who helped run and competed in the race.
In addition to the race itself, the day featured food by Cafe Livin, music by DJ Adonis and beverages by Miller Light and St. John Brewers. A huge, 20-foot, by 38-foot flag hung from trees, creating the perfect backdrop for the day’s events.
“Everyone was asking me about the flag,” said Schuld. “It was given to us by Kenny Conga. It was raised and lowered and folded ceremoniously by the veterans themselves. It’s called a Holiday Flag and it’s used for holidays and special events.”
Schuld will get to work now organized the November trip which will bring a group of wounded veterans, some chosen from TRR’s program at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and some of whom will be nominated by their chapters across the country.
“This is where I get to play Santa Claus,” Schuld said. “This is when my heart explodes and I get to hear how excited people get with the news that they’ll be coming to this amazing place.”
“I do this because we have guys around the country that still need a sense of purpose and by bringing them down to the island and plugging them back into the camaraderie with the other veterans and with TRR, they go back to their chapters and bring that experience with them,” said Schuld, a veteran himself. “It also allows me to stay connected to other veterans by doing this and it’s a big part of my own health and health.”
The St. John Chaotic Kayak was another big success all thanks to the St. John community, Schuld explained.
“I couldn’t be more grateful for the turnout by the community and the participators,” he said. “I’m so overwhelmed by all of it and so absolutely grateful.”
TRR’s USVI program can also use donations and support. To find out how to help, email Schuld at email@example.com.