Racing for Good

Those who were in downtown Grand Rapids on Thursday, August 25th may have seen some strange sights – a group of human-sized flying squirrels crossing the street, groups of people performing spontaneous cheers, or a tie-dyed crew racing around town. 

They were all part of The Itascamazing Race, United Way of 1000 Lakes’ annual scavenger hunt. Held for the second time this August, the event marked the beginning of United Way’s 60th anniversary campaign with a fun and friendly competition. 

The Flying Squirrels earned bonus points for their goofy costumes in the second annual Itascamazing Race.

“We always get excited to host The Itascamazing Race,” said Kimberly Brink Smith, United Way’s executive director. “It’s great to see participants get into the spirit and get competitive, and it’s a unique way to celebrate the unique aspects of our region.”

For three hours, members of thirteen competing teams traversed the Grand Rapids area, using an app to unlock clues that lead them to challenge sites, where they’d complete activities to earn points. Some challenges required finding an answer to a question or taking a team photo at a specific location, while others were more involved, requiring team members to dress up in costumes, play a game, or make a replica out of modeling clay. This year’s event gave teams the option to fundraise in the lead-up to the race, through which they could get a leg up on the competition.

“[We] had a blast running around town [and] finding the challenges,” said Connie Braiedy, who competed in the Race as a member of team No Boundaries. “It was so much fun reading all the clues and figuring out where the [challenge locations] were.”

One Itascamazing Race challenge brought Team No Boundaries to the Pickleball Association at the Itasca County Family YMCA, two of several community groups and businesses that helped host challenges.

The Bookie Rookies’ fundraising prowess earned them a wild card draw at the end of the race, which catapulted them to the top of the leaderboard. Second place went to Team YMCAItasca, made up of employees of the Itasca County Family Y.M.C.A., while Shart Week, veterans of last year’s race, took third. 

While teams got ruthless while pursuing the win, the reason behind The Itascamazing Race, with proceeds going to support Itasca-area families, wasn’t lost on attendees.

Describing the high points of the event, Braiedy lists, “Getting us all together, going into our community, having fun, laughing…and knowing we all are here to help create a strong, healthier community for the future of our youth.” 

The Bookie Rookies took first place in 2022’s Itascamazing Race.

The Itascamazing Race is one of several events held throughout the year that support and celebrate the greater Itasca area. To learn more about United Way’s work and how you can get involved, whether through event attendance, volunteering, donating, or advocacy, visit