About five years ago Mike Vaules and two of his colleagues attended a benefit gala for the Navy SEAL Foundation. There they met the 31 Heroes Project leaders who wanted another highly visible and fun event to raise funds. The three men, all residents of Ocean City, New Jersey, provided the obvious choice. Conduct a family-friendly obstacle course race challenge on the beach.
The Ocean City Memorial Beach Challenge
Today, Ocean City is America’s #1 beach and the Memorial Beach Challenge will open the city and beach for the 2017 season on May 27. Proceeds from the race will support the 31 Heroes Project this year. Prior year events also supported the Navy SEAL Foundation and the Travis Manion Foundation. Since its inception, the event has raised close to $250,000. The involvement of the elite SEALs show throughout the event.
A multi-Service Honor Guard starts the morning. By that time, Vaules and his team of volunteers have completed the construction of the course in just two days. In the first year, the race was put on, SEALs provided tactical data like a tidal surge, weather forecasts, and satellite photos of the course. That data is used as an outline to adjust course placement and length each year. At the closing ceremony, race organizers remind everyone present about the true meaning of Memorial Day. It’s a message even Mike’s 11-year-old daughter understands. Ryan Peters, active Reserves and Navy SEAL said, “The one thing all service members and veterans have in common is at some point they raised their right hand and took and oath to defend and serve the constitution. In doing so they wrote a check payable to the United States of America for the amount up to and including their life. Today, Memorial Day we honor those who had that check cashed in full and invested in the freedom and security we enjoy today.” The day concludes with a wreath-laying at sea.
Elite, Masters, and Families Enjoy the Challenge
The race has grown to over 800 participants of all ages. There is also a separate kids’ race. Obstacles include military walls, dunk tubes, big sand dunes, balance beams, low crawls, and two ABF Mud Run rigs. Masters division marathoner Henry Notaro won the race two years in a row. Another Master, Bill Sculley made a huge comeback last year following 18 months of rehab after suffering a broken neck. Fortitude is absolutely required to run and win this race. It is not easy.
One of my ABF Mud Run buds, shown in a lot of pictures apparently in the early lead, soon gassed out as he trudged through two-plus miles of soft sand. According to Vaules, the sand is the hardest obstacle in the race. It’s what you have to train for. It’s a message for all the OCR athletes training for hills all winter. If you do this race, start training in the mush right now. Nevertheless, Vaules gives this further advice, “Don’t be intimidated. Even my daughter ran last year.”
Support on the course comes from local sponsors and volunteers. Even the Ocean City Fire Department built their own plunge pit obstacle complete with a drenching water spray. Boardwalk vendors like Johnson’s Popcorn also provide things like coupons in race packets. Ocean City gyms like OC Local and Exodus man obstacles and help runners stay safe.
All of these obstacles and festival apparatus take up a lot of space. The current trailer rusted out and needs replacement. A gofundme project started in January to help raise money needed to buy a new trailer that is easy to move and transport all the gear.
While the volunteers have two days to set up the course, the City requests two hours to tear it down, pack the trailer, and get off the beach. Because this event is the official opening of the beach for the summer season, the City wants that beach open to the thousands of spectators and vacationers as soon as possible after the closing ceremony. No other beach along the Jersey coast has an event like this to kick off the season.
For more information on the race go to Memorial Beach Challenge. After you register, you’ll receive email updates up to the day before the race when you will receive critical info on parking, start times, and the final course map. Additional info is on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.