Water Warriors ride into town

ALPENA – Seventeen Water Warriors rode into the Alpena Small Boat Harbor with cold hands and wearing plenty of layers on Monday afternoon. The riders took off from Mackinaw City around 7 a.m. on Monday, making fuel stops in Cheboygan, Rogers City and Presque Isle harbors. The group stayed the night at the Best Western and will be back on Lake Huron shortly after 8 a.m. today.

The Water Warriors raise funds for Special Olympics Michigan, and are comprised of men and women of all ages and walks of life. The endurance ride follows the shore of Lake Huron from Mackinaw City to the St. Clair River, and ends at Harsens Island.

“They are a group of about 25 total riders and support crew members who raise money and awareness for Special Olympics,” Jim Adams, development and events manager for Special Olympics, said. “Since they started, they’ve raised over $2.3 million for Special Olympics.”

The warriors have a land support team that follows them on their journey, ready to assist should there be any problems. They also have two support boats riding with them on the trip.

“This is defiantly an endurance ride,” land support personnel Karen Winkle said. “We had one PWC break down just outside of Presque Isle Harbor, so we had to have someone assist them.”

For 23 years the warriors have ridden the Lake Huron shoreline, and rider and chairperson Ann Plegue has been riding for 19 of them.

“The challenge is small compared to the ones the Special Olympics athletes have throughout their lives,” Plegue said. “We have a lot of fun on this ride. The team effort is phenomenal,. We’re like a big family. The camaraderie overwhelms the new riders. We have nine new members this year and we just keep growing. The towns along the way are all great to us and help us out a lot. All the harbors donate wells, Best Western has been great, Applebee’s is giving us a discount on dinner, it’s just great. “

The warriors’ goal is to raise $100,000 this year to donate to Special Olympics.

“Each rider has to raise a minimum of $1,500 and commits to riding their machine on the trip. So far we’ve raised just over $78,000 this year,” member Matthew Addy said. “This is my ninth year riding, but I’ve been coming on this trip since ’93. It was always our family vacation when I was younger. I was part of the land support. I’m going to try and ride until I can’t anymore.”

The cold weather and choppy waters make the trip a bit more difficult, but the warriors come prepared.

“We run around 30 mph on a nice day and around 25 when it’s choppy like its been,” Addy said. “We all have our own ways of layering to keep warm.”

The support boats keep the land crew updated on where the riders are and how they’re doing. The land, boat, and riders all work together to keep everyone safe and have a good trip for a great cause.

“It’s an endurance ride, there’s going to be challenges,” Adams said. “It brings that mission back home for them to have to endure difficulties. They keep going in bad weather.”

Addy feels strongly about the endurance portion of the ride.

“We all survived. It was a little choppy and cold, but it’s all for the athletes,” he said. “They go through worse challenges every day.”

For more information or to donate to Special Olympics Michigan through the Water Warriors website, visit www.waterwarriors.org or call (810) 499-9508 to get involved.

Nicole Grulke can be reached via email at ngrulke@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5687. Follow Nicole on Twitter @ng_alpenanews.