CrossFit teams row for charity in Morris marathon

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Kara Hamilton and her nine teammates set a goal of two hours and 48 minutes to finish a 26.2-mile marathon. Only this marathon took place in a parking lot in downtown Morris on a rowing machine, all in the name of charity.

“This was a good fundraiser for a good cause. Giving back to Special Olympics and Special Connections helps our community,” Hamilton said.

On Saturday morning, seven teams of 10 athletes joined a statewide fundraiser for Special Olympics Illinois called Row Raiser. This CrossFit fundraiser was sponsored in Morris by the year-old CrossFit gym called CrossFit Four D. At 8 a.m., athletes and spectators gathered in the parking lot behind Ebbey George’s Bar & Grill to begin opening ceremonies and the grueling marathon row.

CrossFit Four D owners Brian and Kelly Laughary said they were contacted by CrossFit Quincy, which was the originator of the event in 2015, to take part in the statewide fundraiser. Brian said he and his wife knew this would be something they would like to do in order to give back to the community in which they serve.

“Our vision when we opened was to be something bigger than ourselves. We are athletes who like to help the community and hope to do this event year after year,” Kelly said. “It’s been awesome to watch the teamwork as it gets harder and hotter outside. These are moments I really want to capture.”

Each team came up with its own strategy for the 26.2 miles. Most did a two-minute or 500-meter rotation in order to keep everyone well rested and hydrated for the three-hour duration.

Funds were raised by team fees in order to row, and 100 percent of the funds went to Special Olympics Illinois.

The event in Morris raised $3,500, Brian said.

Morris Community High School Poms coaches Megan Carlson and Becky Bernardi cheered on their girls as they each rowed. The coaches created a team and used the opportunity to teach the girls about community service.

“This was great because the girls got to do something. You can donate money and donate money, but this gets them involved in doing something. Most people get involved in charities as adults; this gets these girls involved as 16- and 17-year-olds,” Bernardi said.

CrossFit Four D took its generous spirit one step further and made tank tops and T-shirts to sell, with proceeds to benefit Special Connections of Grundy County because Special Connections works with Special Olympics Illinois. Kelly said the downtown location outside created buzz as shoppers walked by, saw the rowers and stopped to check it out, which increased awareness and shirt sales.

Special Connections has a mission to “connect people with disabilities to the community through social interactions, education, recreational opportunities and shared information,” according to its web site.

Stephanie Kessler, Special Connections board member said the funds raised will help its sporting events such as bowling, basketball, bocce ball, golf, swimming, track and field, dance, fitness and tennis, but also social events such as game nights, dances, and event beyond sports.

Kessler said Special Connections has always been about social interactions and sports, so this type of fundraiser coincided with its mission statement. Special Connection athletes also rowed along side other athletes throughout the day, which created that extra social connection Kessler said they encourage.

“Once the students leave school their social circle decreases, so Special Connections widens that social circle. We are all about social inclusion and allowing them to do what everyone else does,” Kessler said.