While the majority of 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment Marines train at the Mountain Warfare Training Center, in Bridgeport, Calif., Marines in the remain-behind element filled Ala Wai Canal with plastic, squeaky, yellow birds to support individuals affected by cerebral palsy, March 21, 2014.
“It was a pretty nice, beautiful day (with) great weather,” said Capt. Michael Kopa, officer in charge of the RBE for 3rd Bn., 3rd Marines.
Kopa, 26, of Woodbridge, Va., and 24 Marines joined staff and volunteers of the United Cerebral Palsy Association of Hawaii’s 27th Annual Great Hawaiian Rubber Duckie Race in Honolulu. This is the first time 3rd Bn., 3rd Marines has volunteered for the race. Their job was to unload crates of rubber duckies from a truck and set the ducks afloat.
Prior to and the day of the race, members of the public could “adopt” one or more of the association’s 20,000 rubber duckies, for a small fee. Participants received an adoption certificate with a number corresponding to a specific duck. On race day, the ducks are released from large boxes into the Ala Wai Canal, and float toward an oil boom. Numerous ducks bring in prizes, including but not limited to the first one across the finish line.
“I would have to say in 27 years (of hosting this race) this was one of the best,” said Donna Fouts, the executive director of the United Cerebral Palsy Association of Hawaii. “Mother Nature gave us extremely strong tradewinds to blow the ducks out. The wind (blew) straight down the canal.”
This year, the ducks splashed down at 1:27 p.m. Fouts said she annually determines the race date and start time based on tide flow conditions, to ensure a smoother race. In past years, weather conditions and conflicting events in the canal have been challenges for the race coordinators. Sometimes, volunteers had to push stray ducks toward the finish line with long poles. But this year, the event went as planned.
“The first duck was done in less than nine minutes,” Fouts said. “They all just stayed together. This year there were no surprises, but maybe that was the surprise.”
More than 130 volunteers supported the annual event, which raises money to help people who have cerebral palsy, a brain disorder that interferes with a person’s muscle function, making it difficult to move or walk regularly. Many people who are born with the disorder show symptoms when they are very young, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
Since the inaugural race, UCPA Hawaii has raised more than $1 million. All funds from the race stay in Hawaii, and are used for various programs and services UCPA Hawaii offers to people affected by cerebral palsy.
This year, the UPCA Hawaii brought out new wooden boxes, which were built by a boy scout group. These boxes were made from half-inch-thick plywood, and are very heavy. Fouts estimated each box weighed approximately 500 pounds, requires four to six people to carry. Fouts said she was having difficulty getting volunteers strong enough to carry the boxes.
“Needless to say when Capt. Kopa called and said ‘I heard you needed help, were you still looking?’ I was excited,” Fouts expressed. “These new boxes weigh a ton. Filled with 4,000 ducks, they probably weigh a ton-and-a-half. I knew I needed some strong bodies. The Marines said ‘we’ll be there and we’re delighted to do it.’”
“She was really accommodating,” Kopa said. “She gave all the Marines T-shirts, so we were all uniform.”
According to Fouts, the race usually requires as many as 120 volunteers for tasks including dumping and retrieving ducks, collecting donations from the public and working in pre-race activity booths. She expressed that she is grateful when the military comes out to volunteer for the race.
“This is a day off for them,” Fouts said. “To have (volunteers to dump the ducks) there was a golden, heavenly moment for me. I am eternally grateful and I say ‘thank you very much’ to our service members.”
“There were a lot of people surrounding the canal, watching us,” Kopa said. “There were other volunteers, members of the organization and people with cerebral palsy attending. It was a really good event, and the Marines were right there in the middle of it. It was really nice to have the opportunity. The Marines enjoyed themselves.”
But the rubber duckie race wasn’t the only volunteer opportunity the RBE accepted. A number of RBE Marines also volunteered at Marine Corps Community Services’ March 21 event, Operation Ooh-Rah Kids, on base. The Marines showed the participating children how to pack gear, eat meals, ready to eat, set up static displays and answered questions.
Kopa said the Marines plan to get involved in upcoming Special Olympics Hawaii volunteer opportunities.
“While the rest of the battalion is training in Bridgeport, they’re not taking the weekends off,” Kopa said. “We’re going to continue to get involved with opportunities to stay engaged like the rest of our unit is, and make ourselves (more available to help the local community).”