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BLOOMINGTON — More than 250 athletes spent hours rowing a marathon on Saturday.

Not across a lake or through river rapids, but in the middle of a Bloomington parking lot.

The destination?

More opportunities for athletes with Special Olympics of Illinois.

“The Row Raiser started in Quincy five years ago and has grown into a statewide event to fund-raise for Special Olympics. It’s athletes helping athletes,” said Jim Fitzpatrick, Region G director for Special Olympics Illinois.

Hosted at CrossFit Bloomington-Normal, 401 Bronco Drive, more than 250 people made up 22 teams of athletes and volunteers.

Team members alternated time spent on rowing machines lined up in the parking lot, competing to be the first to finish a stationary 26.2-mile marathon.

Our gym members always help out at Special Olympics events, so this event was a no-brainer,” said Chad Hobbs, owner of CrossFit Bloomington-Normal.

Gym member Roger Bedeker, who has a brother with Down syndrome, helped organize this year’s event.

“The more I thought about it, I realized this is about the (Special Olympics) athletes helping us. They always have a smile and a hug to give. You know it’s a good event when everyone is smiling,” said Bedeker.

Several Special Olympics athletes joined the crowd, with some hopping aboard the machines to give rowing a try.

Allyson Meyer, 26, of Bloomington, initially came out to watch the event with her mom, Randi, but couldn’t resist joining the rowing.

“It was a little bit hard, but it was fun,” said Meyer, a Special Olympics athlete who has competed in multiple sports for 18 years.

Seeing the crowd of participants was “wonderful,” said Randi Meyer.

“It really shows that Special Olympics has so much support from people in our community,” she said.

Special Olympics athlete Drew White, 25, of Normal, sang the national anthem to kick off the event.

I get to meet new people and make friends and have fun. It’s really good,” he said.

One team of members from Evolve Fitness gym was decked out in pink clothes and noise makers to encourage each other.

“It’s pretty tough, but our strategy is to go five minutes each,” said team leader Brooke Gish of Downs. “It’s an awesome event for a great cause and we’re happy to be a part of it.”

As Kurtis Frasier of Bloomington encouraged his team members from Element 26 gym, he said rowing impacts the whole body.

“You use your legs, core, back and upper body. It’s low-impact and impacts cardiovascular health. It’s a great exercise for older athletes and a good way to improve conditioning without compromising the health of joints,” said Frasier.

Gym members of Orangetheory Fitness also formed a team with owner Heather Cox.

“We have a team member with a family member involved in Special Olympics. Everyone deserves to have the best life. If we can help in some small way, we want to do it. Rowing is very hard, but so worth it. It’s rewarding, exhausting and fun at the same time,” said Cox.

Contact Julia Evelsizer at (309) 820-3254. Follow her on Twitter: @pg_evelsizer

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Public Safety Reporter

Public safety reporter for The Pantagraph.

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