Due to the amount of teams already pre-registered for the event, this will be the first year teams will not be able to register on the day of the event. Organizer Vicki Cech said she had to turn down some teams that have participated in the Beach Survival Challenge every year because they waited so long to register.
“I think it’s very cool,” Cech said of the number of teams participating in this year’s event. “I remember the first year, I would worry if we would have enough teams to participate — but that’s definitely not the case” this year.
Cech, of Grand Haven Township, and members of the Great Lakes Beach and Pier Safety Task Force, began the water safety awareness event just shy of the one-year anniversary of the death of Cech’s 17-year-old son, Andy Fox. Fox drowned Sept. 3, 2003, after being caught in a Lake Michigan rip current at the state park.
The inaugural Beach Survival Challenge was held in August 2004 to teach children and adults about water and beach safety, while having fun participating in various beach-related games.
“I’m very happy that it’s become the event that it is,” Cech said. “It means so much to me that kids are participating and I know that they’re getting the information that is definitely needed. It’s hard to believe that it’s been so many years.”
While the Beach Survival Challenge began with a small group of volunteers who help organize, set up and facilitate the event, it has now expanded to having 180 volunteers this year.
“I appreciate all the people who support this,” Cech said. “We couldn’t do it without the volunteers.”
Like previous years, the Beach Survival Challenge includes teams of 4-6 people — divided into three age groups — competing in beach soccer, Ultimate Frisbee, tug-of-war and the Ultimate Beach Survival Obstacle Course. Awards will be given to the top three finishers in each division.
The event will also include a water rescue demonstration by the U.S. Coast Guard.
To Cech and her children, Jaime and Ryan Fox, the Beach Survival Challenge will always be a day to teach hundreds of residents and visitors what they wish they had known before that fateful fall day in 2004.
“It means so much to me and my family,” said Jaime Fox, 30. “Not only do we want people to have fun, but we hope that they walk away with the knowledge of being safe in the water when they visit the beach.”
Cech recalls a friend telling her that someone from as far as Hawaii remembered water safety tips from the Beach Survival Challenge, and was able to avoid being caught in a harrowing situation.
“I hear that so many people — and that kids — are learning from this,” Cech said. “I appreciate hearing things like that.”
Last year’s Beach Survival Challenge drew in nearly 430 teens and adults with its record of 72 teams. This year, organizers pre-registered the event’s cap of 80 teams, which filled up two weeks ago.
“Knowing that we reach that many people that one day means a lot to my family,” Jaime Fox said.
Fox — who will be heading up the obstacle course — said her late brother, Andy, will be smiling down on her family and all the participants, volunteers and spectators during the event on Saturday.
“We’re doing this in his memory,” she said.