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Paddleboarders, as well as kayakers, competed in three categories: elite racers going 5 or 10 miles; open division competitors in a 2.5-mile race; and the Sprint Division, which offers a quick 1-mile race.

More than $50,000 was raised to benefit wounded military veterans last weekend at Paddle Second Chance, a race to benefit Warrior Community Connect, held at Holt’s Landing State Park.

A total of 69 paddlers and kayakers participated at the Saturday, Sept. 11, event, held on a late summer day organizer Walt Ellenberger called “a blue-ribbon day from an air, wind and water perspective.”

“It really turned out very well. One new thing was we had 10 wounded veterans and their caregivers. We have a development program that enabled them to get up on the paddleboards and in kayaks, and that was particularly meaningful on the 20th anniversary of Sept. 11,” he said.

Attendance was a little lighter than normal for the event, he said, possibly because it was in September instead of the usual time of year, in June.

Bethany Blues BBQ provided a variety of foods, and there was bottled water and Landshark beer, provided, as well as entertainment by the local band Hot Sauce. The father of one band member is a wounded veteran from the Vietnam War and the band is most enjoyable, said paddler Lili Oller, who was one of the event’s winners and who is out in the ocean in Bethany Beach every day with other women who formed a paddleboarding group called Mermaid Mamas.

“There was so much food, and the music was outstanding. We were blown away. What a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful event and organization. From now on, Water Lili will be supporting them,” she said, referring to the clothing store she owns.

“I am beyond, beyond, beyond stoked. I placed third, but it was so hard. It was harder than giving birth without medication, and I’ve done it four times to 10-plus pound babies,” she said. “Focus. Focus, determination. My heart was racing. I was parched. I started seeing things. Exhaustion kicked in, and then I started dreaming of a cheeseburger, and then I said, ‘No. I don’t want a cheeseburger. I want a banana split,’ and started dreaming of the strawberry with the hot fudge — and then all of a sudden this lady started screaming from behind me, ‘Put your paddle in the water. Bend your knees. Keep pushing, keep pushing. You’re almost done. Don’t quit now.’

“I snapped out of my funk that I was in, and paddled hard and finished third, thank God. Very hard work, but so thrilled it’s over,” an adventurous Oller told the Coastal Point this week, a day before leaving to “cave-dive with great whites in Guadalupe Island.”

Ellenberger congratulated Oller and all winners. Competitors were divided into three categories — elite racers who are more experienced and compete throughout the Mid-Atlantic, who have the option of going 5 or 10 miles; those in the Open Division 2.5-mile race; and the Sprint Division, designed for those wanting a quick 1-mile paddleboard or kayak race.

There are four areas of focus for the organization to assist those wounded in military service — education and enablement; awareness and working with the state to improve programs and outreach; community support to raise awareness; and health and wellness.

Warrior Community Connect has a paddlesport development program specifically for wounded veterans interested in learning to kayak or paddleboard.

“This is a way to get these men and women reengaged to meet goals and to be trained,” Ellenberger said.

He explained that Warrior Community Connect works with those who have physical disabilities but predominately with those who suffered brain injuries or are experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder. He said it has been found that activity-based programs, including paddleboarding, are an easy way to get the veterans more involved.

A native of Washington, D.C., Ellenberger organized a biking fundraiser there for wounded veterans. It’s been in existence about 25 years and has raised close to $4 million. After he and his wife moved closer to the beach, he said, he wanted to work on an event that was more community-based, and chose paddleboarding and kayaking.

Staff Reporter

Veteran news reporter Susan Canfora has written for many newspapers and held positions ranging from managing editor to her favorite, news reporter. She joined the Coastal Point in June 2019. She teaches college writing, tutors and professionally edits.