As far as poker runs go, just when you think it can't get much better than zigzagging through the coral-lined cays of the Florida Keys, or charging past the sun-drenched, copper-colored canyons of Lake Havasu, suddenly a storybook fairytale fun-run beautified by a backdrop of castles and dream-like dwellings complete with drive-up boat garages in Clayton, New York, pops up and a new star on the summer circuit is born -- the 1,000 Islands Charity Poker Run.
Dazzling the hearts and souls of all, the three-day program sets itself apart with an adrenaline-induced aquatic adventure up the Saint Lawrence River, but even more importantly the high-octane outing stands out thanks to its rallying of support for two regional charities -- the Make-A-Wish Foundation and the River Community Wellness Program for Treatment of Veterans.
The commitment of countless home-town volunteers, the dedicated board of organizers including: Nolan Ferris, Ken and Renee Lalonde, Bobby Cantwell, Alex Buduson and Court Rutherford, and the compassionate deeds and donations from the prosperous patrons and participants, are the reasons that make the 1,000 Islands Charity Poker Run, the flagship fastboat extravaganza powerboaters muse over the whole year through.
It was a visual feast of fastness on Thursday, July 18th, as one by one the influx of vee-bottoms and tricked-out twin hulls motored past Watertown and up the final stretch on Route 12. For first-time attendees such as I, my initial impression left me feeling as if I was transplanted to the set of a waterfront version of Walnut Grove with Laura "Half Pint" Ingalls Wilder from the 80s TV series Little House on the Prairie.
The inviting community of Clayton... where it's common practice to leave your vehicle running while you dart into Family Dollar or the local liquor store, welcomed an armada of nearly 117 (at last count) boats and 750-plus poker runners. Residents and registrants alike were also greeted by a vicious heat-wave, and if it had not been for the red and white maple leaf flags reminding me the Canadian border was across the channel, I would have thought I was still at home in Miami.
Human overheating drama aside, everybody's attention shifted to another hot-as-hell matter -- the smokin' caravan of canvases, finally off their trailers and now causing a commotion decorating the quays besides the 1,000 Islands Harbor Hotel. Favorites included the 48' MTI Windship owned by platinum sponsor and poker run devotee, John Woodruff, who made the trip up from Georgia; and returning guest Devin Wozencraft who traversed the United States to skim a few wave tops in his Skater Wozencraft Insurance.
Adrenaline Powerboats splashed its quad Mercury Marine 400R outboard-powered 45-Speede which went on to create such a stir during the nighttime light and sound show, it won the best sound system award. And for anyone who joins me in obsessing over the mere sight of a green machine, I couldn't take my eyes of Scott and Tina Reiter's Outerlimits Tinacious and Mike Facchin's luxury center console Statement It's Not Easy Bein' Green.
Once the boats were all tightly tucked in (and I mean tightly), event festivities commenced as the registration room doors opened at 1:00 p.m. Captains and all cohorts fetched up VIP credentials and this year's batch of 2019 shirts. Everybody standing in line also walked away with a little less memory on their smartphones after downloading the 1,000 Charity Poker Run App, designed by talented techie Ronnie Gordon. The user-friendly App covered all bases with boat tracking, photos, schedules and pop-up notification reminders. My favorite pop-up was the 11:00 p.m. reminder the night before the poker run to go to sleep soon, since the early morning driver's meeting was around the corner.
Moving into Thursday evening, Riverside Drive was transformed into a mini-mecca of marine headliners for the block party. Professional offshore team Fast Boys Racing owned by Pennsylvania resident, Ken Bolinger, also made a special appearance with his lime green #97 Phantom race boat. Passionate about giving back to the involved charities, his team was donating fifty percent of all proceeds from tee-shirt sales to the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
I had the opportunity to speak with Diane Kupperman of the Central New York chapter during the block party and she expressed how grateful the foundation is, "It's unbelievable the exposure and awareness this event has created across the country. We were thrilled with last year's donations that reached $35,000 since the cost of an average wish is $10,000, and we are happy to be back this year."
The next morning, scorching Friday temperatures didn't hinder the Make-A-Wish families from heading down to the Clayton Harbor Municipal Marina to get fitted with their life jackets in preparation for the kids day of rides on the speedboats. Seeing the smiles on the faces of the children was priceless, and captivates more and more people each year when they learn of this phenomenal happening.
Rochester-resident Doug Sample is one of those individuals, and his real estate enterprise Sample Companies - North America is now in its second year of sponsorship. "I first heard about the event back in 2017 when my cousin Jeff Morgan helped organize the initial poker run. My family and I felt strongly about the cause especially since 100% of the monies raised are donated back to the charities."
In addition to the support from regional organizations from the Upstate New York area, high-performance powerboat manufacturer MTI returned with Sales and Marketing Manager Tim Gallagher and his crew on hand. MTI had an immense presence dominating much of the first dock with eye-candy catamarans including the 48-footer Cuz I Can from committee member Ken Lalonde, and a few slips down the one-and-only F440 themed Ferrari MTI.
Mystic Powerboats came on board as a first year sponsor with company owner John Cosker and New Jersey dealer Marine Unlimited's Bernie Neuhaus in attendance. Mercury Racing's Senior Marketing Manager Rick Mackie even escaped his Wisconsin headquarters with son Jordan, and both joined Cosker on the Mystic center console.
PLEASE READ PART TWO OF THE FEATURE FOR DETAILS ABOUT THE SATURDAY MAIN EVENT AND EVENING BANQUET...