Turtle derby raises funds

Ken Eisinger

Roars of victory and defeat punctuated kazoo fanfare wafting out of Diehl Plaza Thursday afternoon at the 12th annual Turtle Derby.
Throughout the day, more than 300 people packed the balloon-festooned courtyard, where volunteers dressed as clowns and a fairy mingled with the audience. Attendees sat on bleachers in front of an elevated stage to cheer or stopped at booths to buy turtle sundaes, bratwursts and T-shirts.
More than 150 University departments and individuals paid between $30 and $50 to sponsor a turtle in the derby. At the edge of the stage, Sponsors waved flags, chanted to their turtles and jumped up and down as their representative reptiles either advanced or were eliminated.
Proceeds from this year’s derby will fund the Welcome Program, which creates a comfortable environment in the hospital for long-term patients and their families. Fairview-University Medical Center and the Academic Health Center presented the event, which raises money for Child Family Life Services programs.
“The biggest thing is raising money for kids,” said Brad Chmielewski, a nursing station technician and referee of the races. “That’s what everybody’s here for.”
The 50 male turtles competed five at a time in the races. The first terrapin to scramble three feet from the center of a white circle to the edge advanced to the next round. Some turtles plodded directly to the edge with single minded intent, others refused to budge.
The event not only raises money for Child Family Life Services, but also builds a sense of community in the University and lets people relax, said Paula Dicke, an event coordinator and a manager for the children’s program.
“Hospitals can be rough sometimes,” Dicke said. “Everybody smiles on days like this.”
In the final race, the Bio-Medical Library-sponsored turtle Bio-Medzilla stomped to a first place finish. Jackie Rucker, head of document delivery services in the Bio-Medical library said she was very excited her department’s turtle won.
Walter, Wilson and Bio-Medical libraries engaged in a playful rivalry this year, and Rucker said she felt happy all three libraries could support the hospital.
Joellen Johnson, associate administrator for security in protective services and chairwoman of the Turtle Derby Committee, said the University showed wonderful support for the event. Some participants donated more than the maximum amount or made donations without requesting a turtle, she said. This year, Derby organizers expect to net an unprecedented $20,000 after expenses.
Now that their excitement is over, the turtles return to the contractor who supplied them in Oshkosh, Wis., before heading to their native territory of Arkansas.