Sign-ups continue throughout this month.
By Terry Duffy
The days are fast approaching for the return of a neat on-water event in the lower Niagara.
Known as the Great Contraption Race, it takes place Saturday, Aug. 1, down river from Lewiston to Youngstown. Now in its second year, the Contraption Race benefits the educational programs of the It Happened to Alexa Foundation of Lewiston. The organization's purpose is to assist victims of sexual abuse and their families through the court process and prevent abuse from happening.
The Contraption Race is open to just about anyone who has an inclination for fun and absurdity. For an entry fee of $150 covering a team of two or four, you and your friends can use your imagination and create your own water-worthy floatie - a "contraption," if you will.
Event guidelines state, "The contraptions must be made mostly from recycled materials; they must be able to float and the contraption can only be powered by human power, and/or a man-made sail to float down the river."
Other particulars include required life jackets for the crew. The event is alcohol-free on the water per U.S. Coast Guard regulations. Remember, this is an on-water event, taking place in the lower Niagara with its swift currents and safety needs to be a consideration.
But so should fun. Race organizers encourage costumes for participants and themed designs for the contraptions. Remember, silliness is in fashion for this one.
"You can do it with just a couple of inner tubes," said Ellen Augello, executive director of the Alexa Foundation, who serves as one of the race coordinators. She recalled last year's first Great Contraption Race, which saw 29 enter and 25 compete - with participants floating down river in everything from inner tubes to rafts, floating chairs, tubs, kayaks, barrels, tied kegs - the list goes on.
Come Saturday morning, Aug. 1, teams will enter with their water-ready contraptions at the Lewiston docks and float down river to the boat launch at Fort Niagara State Park in Youngstown, where they will be taken out of the water.
Race participants will check in at 9 a.m. in Lewiston and the floating brigade gets underway at 11 a.m. Prizes will be awarded for best times and creativity.
An afternoon party follows the race at Fort Niagara State Park. Running from 1 to 5 p.m., this family-fun event includes entertainment featuring Clyde and the Dave Thurman Trio, a petting zoo and face-painting for the little ones, and an assortment of foods, beverages, vendors and more.
So why not join in for a good time?
Augello and Alexa Foundation staffer Sandra Lahrache note with pride the proceeds of the Great Contraption Race go directly toward what they view as a very critical element of the foundation's purpose: preventive education, particularly for young people. They said the Alexa Foundation visited with students at 16 schools in Erie and Niagara counties this past semester. And from its beginning, this educational program has reached more than 6,000 students.
"We are talking to students about healthy relationships, helping them understand what is healthy, what is not healthy; that starts in eighth grade," Lahrache said. "In 10th grade we talk about what consent is. ... It's amazing, how enthused they are about this particular subject.
"I've been talking to high school seniors about what they can expect when they start college ... about what consent is, about what consent is not."
Lahrache continued, "The last school I spoke at was Williamsville East. I had a senior class; they broke it down to girls and boys. The boys asked their teacher if they could stay until the next period; they had so many questions they wanted to ask that they were uncomfortable asking."
"Lew-Port, Lockport, Sacred Heart Academy, Stella Niagara, just to name a few ... we are getting to the rural schools, the city schools, Niagara Falls High School," Lahrache said.
The program has been well received. However, "The schools do not pay us to go there. On very rare occasions will we ever see a check," Lahrache said.
Which brings us back to the Great Contraption Race. The event continues to grow in curiosity and interest from the general public, but like anything new, it also has seen its share of growing pains.
"This year I thought we'd have people banging on the door, everyone had so much fun (last year)," Augello said. "But whatever the reason - the weather - people just have not been; people are procrastinating. We need your help on getting the word out."
Sign-ups continue throughout this month. For more information or to register online, visit www.crowdrise.com/thegreatcontraptionrace2015.
Sponsors of this event include Modern Corp., Certo Brothers, WGRZ Channel 2, Cumulous Media Inc., Niagara Frontier Publications, Niagara Sunset Cruises, Prudential Financial and Hebelor LLC.