Special Olympians get supercharged day on bay

Published in the Asbury Park Press 7/20/03
SEASIDE HEIGHTS -- Joe Fantozzi of Toms River has it all -- "Stress Relief," his 36-foot, twin-outboard boat; the nearby Barnegat Bay to go cruising in; and two children.

But the 42-year-old yesterday called giving boat rides to people involved with the Special Olympics, a program for physically or mentally challenged athletes, a "very humbling thing to do."

"A lot of kids never did this before," Fantozzi said as he waited to give free rides. "They just light up. The wind in (their) faces -- things we take for granted."

About 275 children and adults from around New Jersey, along with their guests, were taking part in this year's Shore Dreams for Kids event, held on the bay with 10- or 15-minute boat rides beginning and ending at the borough's municipal dock.

"When we're on boats, we're all kids," said Glenn King, 35, of Manalapan, who volunteered his 30-foot powerboat. "When out there, nobody's challenged."

One of the participants -- Darren Luhrs, 25, of Woodcliff Lake -- apparently set a world record for a physically disabled person when he throttled a powerboat to 120.2 mph, according to club members.

"He would have gone faster if we let him," said Bob Christie of East Windsor, owner and driver of the 36-foot boat, "Perfect Storm."

"It was a lot of fun, and I had a great time," said Luhrs, who has cerebral palsy. "The ride was unbelievable. It was smooth, like a car ride."

Shore Dreams had been held annually on the bay since it was started by the Barnegat Bay Powerboat Racing Association in the late 1970s or early 1980s and continued by the Day on the Bay Foundation, said Dave Patnaude, an organizer of this year's event. But it was discontinued in 2000, he said.

This year, the New Jersey Performance Power Boat Club, of which Patnaude, 34, is president, revived the event.

"We were volunteers when they were doing it (in the past)," said Patnaude, explaining how his club revived the outing. "We were passionate for the event to come back."

The 6-year-old club, based in Toms River, is a recreational group for those with high-performance power boats. It has about 275 members, mostly from New Jersey and surrounding states, who have about 250 boats, Patnaude said.

Yesterday, club members provided 30 boats, he said. The cost of running the boats -- about $30 to $75 an hour, depending on the craft -- was donated by members, Patnaude said. The club also provided a picnic at the event, which was held form 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

"The first reaction of anybody you ask to come out (is) there's no hesitancy," Patnaude said. "Everybody wants to give back."

Tom Ambrosio, 36, of Marlboro served as the crew on King's boat. Ambrosio said he was "glad to help, (it was) nice to see them have a good time."

Duke Vetrano of Ocean Township brought along Kathy Finnegan White, 47, of Oceanport and Anthony Hill, 9, of New York City as his quests. Anthony described the boat ride, his first, as "a little scary."

"But he can't wait to go home and tell all his buddies he went 90 mph," White said.

When asked how fast he zipped along the water, Vetrano simply said, "Fast enough."

"The experience of the kids when they get off the boat . . . the smile is ear to ear," Patnaude said.

Some participants are blind or deaf, Patnaude said. But whatever sense may be lost, the boat ride "overwhelms" the other senses, he said.

Allen Cohen, 47, of North Arlington, another participant, said he enjoyed himself.

"If they have it, I'll do it again," he said.

"We picked up the torch, and we intend to run with it for many years to come," Patnaude said of his club's involvement.Joe Sapia: (732) 557-5737 or (800) 822-9770, Ext. 5737, or e-mail [email protected].

This was a great event to be a part of...
For all who were able to volunteer, you should be proud.
I am looking forward to next year's event...