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Paddle pushers
June 13, 2018

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The Gulf of Mexico was full of energy Saturday morning.

Athletic energy, that is.

Ninety competitors races through the sunshine during the fourth annual Battle on the Blueway.

The race is coordinated by Lee County's Great Calusa Blueway and SWFL Paddle Club, and all proceeds from the event benefit the Lee County Special Olympics.

"This event is cool because we're giving back to Special Olympic athletes," said Damien Grafmyre, a co-organizer of the event. "They're so excited about what they accomplish. It teaches us something about life."

Saturday's event also featured a "unified" race, in which a 7-mile paddler was paired with a Special Olympics athlete to do a race.

"That really connects everyone," Grafmyre said. "It's all about them."

Racers competed in a 2-mile and 7 mile race; the first was sponsored by BodyGlove, the second by Ron Jon Surf Shop. Racers made laps around buoys out in the Gulf, facing the water and the warm sun.

"People travel from all over Florida to get here. The race showcases the Blueway and what our part of Florida is all about," said Mike Hammond, coordinator for the Great Calusa Blueway. The Blueway is a network of paddle trails throughout Lee County.

Battle on the Blueway also served as a warm-up for the Lee County Special Olympic SUP team athletes. They will compete in the area Special Olympics Games in July and then the State Games in August.

"It's the most joyous times of year for me," said Mark Melancon, head coach of the SWFL Paddle Club.

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