Thousands of rubber ducks are being prepared for the 22nd Annual Sertoma Great Topeka Duck Race Saturday at Lake Shawnee. Proceeds will benefit Big Brothers Big Sisters of Topeka, as well as other organizations.
Numbered rubber ducks are adopted for $5 each and dropped into the water at a race route south of the swim beach at Lake Shawnee. The ducks crossing the finishing line first win prizes. In the past, a car was given away as the grand prize. This year, the top prize will be a diamond tennis bracelet.
Second prize is $1,500 cash and the third-place winner will receive a Great Wolf Lodge family adventure. Other prizes will be awarded and there also is a chance to win $1 million.
“We tried to make something for everybody and have a nice variety of prizes,” said Julie Hejtmanek, who helped establish the Sertoma Great Topeka Duck Race and served as 2009-10 Sertoma International president.
Children’s activities start at 11 a.m., and the race begins at 3 p.m. Other free festivities include children’s and family games, a petting zoo, hourly door prizes starting at noon, music by the Ric Barron Band and Boy Scout Troop 183 food booth.
Q: What is your title for the duck race? How long have you been involved?
Hejtmanek: I wear many hats. I guess I would be the duck central chair at the hub. My husband (Dan Hejtmanek) and I started the duck race 22 years ago, and we chaired it for the first 10 years.
Q: How did this event begin in Topeka?
Hejtmanek: Sertoma had been around for 100 years, but really not that well known in Topeka. We were looking for a way to get name recognition for the organization and the things we do, get our members more engaged and involved, significant fundraising and also to connect with a charity who needed our help and, at that point, it was Big Brothers Big Sisters. They continue to get a large share of the profits, but we kind of morphed into other things.
Q: Where do the funds raised go?
Hejtmanek: Nonprofits. Historically, 50 percent (goes) to Big Brothers Big Sisters (and) 50 percent to the three Sertoma Clubs (in Topeka), who then decide who they want to benefit. We try to focus on children and people who need our help with regard to communication — speech and hearing, and primarily hearing health. (It) changes year to year.
Q: How many ducks were adopted last year?
Hejtmanek: We were low last year. I think it was like 8,500; we did not sell out.
We’ll have 10,000 (ducks) and (I) hope that we sell them all out this year, but we really need the public to step up.
Q: How much was raised from last year’s event?
Hejtmanek: About $45,000 net. We have given over $760,000 (to nonprofit organizations) over the past 21 years.
Q: Where do the ducks come from?
Hejtmanek: They are rented and are coming from Peoria, Ill.
Q: Where are the ducks stored?
Hejtmanek: (They’re) stored in one of the Parks and Recreation buildings. … We’re taking the old stickers off and putting new stickers on. It’s about a three-hour process. The Monday after the race, they are boxed and ready to ship to somewhere else.
Q: How many ducks can one person adopt?
Hejtmanek: Unlimited — 10,000 — at least one minimum, no maximum. Adoption certificates only need one name of a person for unlimited ducks. Online duck purchases will have an order number that is computer-generated.
Q: What are some tips on getting your duck to the finish line?
Hejtmanek: You have to come out and cheer it on. You don’t have to be present to win. We will have a list of winners on our website (and) printed in The Capital-Journal, and that night after the race calls are made to the winners.
Q: How many ducks are lost?
Hejtmanek: Maybe one or two. The race is about 100 yards in Lake Shawnee, and it depends on how windy it is. There are lane markers for them to stay inside. Shawnee (County) Parks and Recreation has individuals out in paddle boats (and) canoes with fishing nets to catch the stray ducks.
Q: What does the event mean to you personally?
Hejtmanek: When we first started doing it, it was a great feeling to raise a lot of money to help a lot of charities. Secondarily, it was such a source of pride to put on such a neat event for families that was completely free.
Contact features writer Jessica Cole at (785) 295-5628