October 11, 2017

RON COOKE/The Citizen
Volunteers manned the turnaround buoy as Caleb Stowers, from Monroe County, makes his turn before heading back to the finsih line during last year's event at Higgs Beach.

RON COOKE/The Citizen Volunteers manned the turnaround buoy as Caleb Stowers, from Monroe County, makes his turn before heading back to the finsih line during last year's event at Higgs Beach.

Despite having to change the venue from Higgs Beach for the first time, more than 100 Special Olympics stand-up paddle (SUP) enthusiasts from across the country, along with athletes’ families and friends are still gathering in Key West from Friday through Sunday for the sixth annual Stand Up Paddle Invitational now at Smathers Beach.

Participants selected for the 2018 USA Games in Seattle — July 1-7 — and athletes across Florida are to compete in the Invitational. The Key West event helped Special Olympics Florida launch stand-up paddling as a sanctioned sport each season.

“We’re happy that Key West is open for business and ready to greet all of our event participants,” said Monroe County director for Special Olympics Ruth Holland. 

With Higgs Beach unsuitable for competition, the main paddling events are to be held at Smathers Beach, but before that an opening ceremony will be held on Friday at Lucy’s Retired Surfers Bar & Restaurant from 4 to 8 p.m.

On Saturday, teams can volunteer for clean-up activities from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., while registration begins at 4 p.m. at Duval Square. Traditional Special Olympics opening ceremonies, with a Parade of Athletes, is to begin at La Te Da and end at Duval Square at 4:30 p.m.

Also Saturday, a catered dinner dance, hosted by New York Pasta Garden in the courtyard at Duval Square, is scheduled from 5 to 8 p.m. A $25 per person ticket benefits Special Olympics athletes in the Florida Keys.

Sunday is main race day, with a paddleboard event and a beach run obstacle course designed by Cooper. Special Olympics races start at 8:30 a.m., with races opening to the public, only donations requested enter, at 11:30 a.m. . Events are inclusive for paddlers of all levels, adapted for Special Olympics athletes and include activities for families and nonpaddlers.

For information on the event or to register online visit the website at http://specialolympicsflorida.org/monroe/fundraise/supinvitational.

“We’re honored to be the first major event to welcome visitors, tourists, and residents back to Key West,” said Holland. “This is our sixth annual SUP event, and it means the world to all of our racers and their families that we did not have to cancel it.”