As I write this article, the temperature outside my home is 16°, headed down to a low of 6°. It’s the kind of weather that makes you want to cover with a blanket and sit by a fire until spring. It’s not exactly the kind of weather that calls to mind, say, water skiing in the river. Interestingly enough, it does for some people. It reminds me of those commercials with people who enjoy spilling coffee on themselves, running into glass walls and having a toddler kick their seat-back on an airplane: Not for everybody.
There’s a local group that has been doing just that – water skiing and generally playing in the water on our riverfront -every January for the last 23 years. When they take to the water on January 27 for the Eskimo Escapades, they will mark twenty-four years of winter water sports. It may sound a little crazy to most of us, but it’s all for a good cause.
The group (a 501(c)(3)) takes the fun (and crazy) idea and uses it to raise money for good causes – most of it dedicated to helping residents of east Tennessee. “The organization’s sole purpose is to raise money to benefit three (3) key organizations: The Patricia Neal Innovative Recreational Cooperative (PNIRC), The Dream Connection, and the Adventure Amputee Kids Camp at Fontana Lake.” Here’s what the groups do:
The Patricia Neal Rehabilitation Center is East Tennessee’s recognized leader in rehabilitating stroke, spinal cord, and brain injury patients. The center has touched the lives of thousands of patients and families from around the nation, accumulating nearly 30,000 patient success stories since it opened in 1978. The Patricia Neal Innovative Recreation Cooperative (IRC) was created in 1994 to meet the needs of individuals who have suffered a life changing illness or injury in East Tennessee. The IRC provides clinics in water skiing, snow skiing, paddling, cycling, climbing, marksmanship and golf on a regular basis. These activities require specialized equipment for the participants and are made possible by your donations and volunteers. The IRC has seen over 10,000 participants and volunteers since it was created.
The Dream Connection is a non-profit organization dedicated to fulfilling the special dreams of children ages 3-18 who are faced with life threatening or chronically debilitating illnesses in the East Tennessee area. A “dream come true” to a child can give back, in some small way, that which disease and illness have taken away. Every donation made will go towards helping one more child realize his or her dream within their lifetime.
The Adventure Amputee Camp (AAC) encourages children with amputations or limb differences to stretch their potential and imagination, and explore all that is possible. For the past eight years, the Eskimo Escapades Foundation has sponsored the AAC Water Ski Day in Fontana, NC, with both volunteers and funds for a large picnic for participants. The AAC is staffed by an all-volunteer organization and has over 30 children from across the country participate in a five day camp for a nominal fee ($25), although the cost per child is approximately $600. Your donation will help sponsor the AAC participants and the Water Ski Day.
The Eskimo Escapades has donated over $400,000 over the years to these organizations, helping many individuals who experience serious illnesses and disabilities. The group has raised over $15,000 so far this year, but hopes to push that total to a much higher level. There are several ways you can help: Go to the webpage and donate and/or sign up to participate. $40 allows you to ski, wakeboard, barefoot or tube a half-mile loop from volunteer landing. Of course, you can raise more money, if you’d like to help further and you can donate without participating.
I spoke to board member Joe Aylor who said it’s a great event for children. You see his photo above with his daughter on a tube – she’s the one wearing a warm coat, gloves and not getting wet. For the more adventurous, feel free to bring your own wet suit, though the group will have some available at the event. As you can see from the picture below there’s even something called the “Penguin Plunge,” which looks like people in swim suits simply jumping in the river in January. Crazy.
Participants and spectators alike will be treated to numerous culinary options including steaming hot gumbo from Bayou Bay Seafood and pulled pork sandwiches from Calhoun’s on the River. Other food and beverage providers will be available and Joe suggested that one warm option is to sit inside Calhoun’s, beer in hand and enjoy the spectacle from a toasty indoor table.
All money raised goes to the charities after the minimal costs to produce the event. Give if you can. Participate if you are a little crazy. Come watch the fun from around 10:00 AM to about 3:00 PM, Saturday, January 27.