Qualifying for the Olympics is a tough goal, one that takes years of hard work to achieve.
On Aug. 24, Egg Harbor City held its annual DARE Olympics at Egg Harbor City Lake, and while its barrier for entry might not be as high as the real thing, for the kids who competed, it was a great time.
"It's a beautiful day," said Jessica Rifice, event planner and chair of the Egg Harbor City Municipal Alliance. "It's something fun to do, they enjoy it. It's a competition – but it's friendly competition."
The DARE Olympics were started in 1996 by Nanette Galloway, then chair of the municipal alliance, who was inspired by local teacher and Egg Harbor City resident Gary Melton's carrying the Olympic torch in preparation for that year's games. Thinking such an event would be fun for local kids, she reached out to her friend, Fernwood Avenue Middle School teacher Jeannie Williams, to help plan the games.
Each year, the event draws dozens of local kids to compete in fun activities such as swim, foot and sack races.
Hundreds of kids have taken part in the event over its 17 year history, and many of those who competed in this year's Olympics were repeat entrants determined to avenge a defeat or defend a victory.
"We're pulling through generations of kids- like, my son was small, he's 25 now, so there's a whole different group of kids," Galloway said. "They get real competitive. They come year after year, and if they won last year, they have to outdo themselves this year."
The event is sponsored by DARE, the Municipal Alliance and the Egg Harbor City Kiwanis Club. Each participant was given a free T-shirt, school supplies and lunch.
Most participants each year are from Egg Harbor City, but word of mouth has spread to neighboring towns as well. Mike Callahan , of Mays Landing, has brought his three granddaughters to the event for the past five years, also spending the weekend camping at the lake.
The event has become an end of summer highlight for the girls, who Callahan said get a kick out of treating it like the real thing.
"We tease them about it all summer - being in training for the Olympics and stuff like that," Callahan said. "They've got to eat right, make them work out and swim. They love it."
Like Callahan, Egg Harbor City resident Julie Hall has made a tradition of bringing her kids, 16-year-old Emily and 12-year-old Jack, to the event for the past five years or so. While Emily decided to stay home this year, Jack eagerly jumped into the fray.
Taking part in the event is less about the competition than it is about getting outside with some other local kids, Hall said, and from that angle, it hits the mark.
"It's good for the kids and they get some exercise," she said. "They know that their town is trying to do something for them. I just think it's a good thing for them to get together."
Contact Braden Campbell: