Lightning, rain delay but don’t stop Sertoma Great Topeka Duck Race

Brief rainfall and lightning Saturday afternoon deterred some would-be watchers from the annual Sertoma Great Topeka Duck Race — the first such instance in the event’s 22-year history.


Although the rain prompted a “mass exodus,” race co-chairwoman Julie Hejtmanek said, it would never stop a duck race.

“The ducks don’t mind getting wet,” she said.

However, lightning visible to the east of Lake Shawnee did delay the start of the race, which was scheduled for 3 p.m. Shawnee County Parks and Recreation employees and Topeka Sertoma club members initially moved out onto a metal barge in the cove south of the swim beach to begin the race about 2:45 p.m., but decided to move off the water after seeing lightning.

Families sat beneath large tents near the cove to wait, and Sertoma members announced door prizes.

Kimberlynn Werden, 5, and Natalie Jessup-Hernandez, 7, used the delay to get temporary tattoos of ducks sponged onto the backs of their hands. Natalie had attended the Great Topeka Duck Race before, but Saturday marked Kimberlynn’s first chance to see it.

About 3:30 p.m., after a countdown from 10, several dozen people who stayed through the delay watched as 10,000 rubber ducks were dumped from a large bin into the water.

Although a steady breeze was present as rain fell earlier, it had died down by the time the race began, and Parks and Rec employees in paddle boats worked to create wakes that would help propel the ducks through the race course marked with swimming pool lane markers.

Wes Matson, district governor of the area’s six Sertoma clubs and vice president of Emporia Sertoma, sat at the finish line and pulled the first 30 or so ducks out of the water one at a time. Only about 6,420 of the 10,000 ducks in the water were adopted by race time, which meant extra ducks had to be pulled from the lake at the finish line to ensure the 11 adopted ducks finishing first won prizes.

Duck adopters purchased single ducks for $5; a “family” of five for $20; a “flock” of 12 for $50; or an “oodle” — 27 ducks — for $100.

Hejtmanek said 50 percent of proceeds from the race go to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Topeka and the other 50 percent is split among Topeka’s three Sertoma clubs, which select their own beneficiaries among about 30 nonprofits. The clubs also use the funds for their seniors and kids programs focused on Sertoma’s national mission to boost hearing health.

Prizes and winners were listed on the Great Topeka Duck Race website. Hejtmanek said the winners also would be contacted personally. They are listed below beginning with the first-prize winner:

  • Jack Peck, of Topeka.
  • Kim Gambers, of Topeka.
  • Eric Claspill, of Topeka.
  • Sterling Hedstrom, of Topeka.
  • Jamie Votaw, of Topeka.
  • Jim Ramos, of Topeka.
  • Diane Donald, of Topeka.
  • Anne Koprince, of Lawrence.
  • Mary Dunn, of Topeka.
  • Ronda Hoss, of Overbrook.
  • Cecilia O’Gara, of Topeka.