A fleet of yellow rubber duckies sporting sunglasses bobbed down the Chicago River on Thursday afternoon.
Crowds of smiling spectators, children blowing duck beak whistles, boat riders, kayakers and drivers cheered on the 70,000 toy ducks raising money for Special Olympics Illinois.
A truckload of them was dropped into the Chicago River from the Columbus Bridge at the 1 p.m. “Splashdown.” With the help of the Chicago Park District and Coast Guard, the ducks floated to the finish line halfway to the Michigan Avenue Bridge.
Chicago residents could “adopt” a duck for $5 to enter the race. As of Thursday afternoon, the Derby has raised about $310,340 for Special Olympics Illinois.
“We sold 70,000 duckies, which is a huge accomplishment,” said Alexandra MacMillan, the event’s communications coordinator.
The first place ducky won a 2021 Chevy Trailblazer. Second and third place duckies won an all-inclusive trip to Mexico and $2,000, respectively.
Before the race, families milled around the festival of games, music and food at 401 N. Michigan Ave. Visitors lined the Riverwalk, Michigan Avenue and Wacker Drive. The Derby also hosted a virtual festival for those who could not attend in person.
Becky Cavanagh, a Special Olympics Illinois global messenger and athlete, sold about 900 rubber ducks. The race day was also her sixteenth birthday.
“There’s a lot of people who like Becky and believe in this cause,” said Joe Cavanagh of his daughter with Down syndrome.
The Clarendon Hills family has been attending and fundraising for the Ducky Derby for eight years.
“I do horseback riding, rhythmic gymnastics and swimming,” said Becky Cavanagh. “And, I’m excited for the boat ride.”
Many other Special Olympics Illinois athletes brought their families to support the cause.
“Nate’s one of the best golfers in the state of Illinois,” said Holly Simon, mother of the Special Olympian. “We support him every chance we get.”
Nate Simon, 18, has been golfing for 10 years but also participates in gymnastics, swimming, basketball and track and field events.
His older sister, Lindsey, also came along to support “Nate the Great,” or “The Mayor of Chicago,” as Nate has won over 100 Special Olympics medals and makes friends with everyone he meets.
“We love what Special Olympics Illinois does for our children,” said Holly Simon. “He’s met amazing people and friends, and he’s had a blast along the way.”
This year’s Ducky Derby Ambassador is Mallory Taylor, a Special Olympics Illinois athlete from Naperville.
The first rubber ducky that passed through the plastic tunnel near the finish line won. The 24-year-old thrust the lucky ducky into the air for the crowds to see.
“It (Special Olympics Illinois) has a special place in my heart,” said Taylor, after the race. “It was great, and I am very proud.”
Taylor’s boyfriend of 10 years, Mike Riordan, and Taylor’s parents, Bonnie and Bob, cheered her on from the Riverwalk.
Taylor’s team, the Darling Ducklings, a group of about 25 Special Olympics Illinois athletes, sold over 13,000 ducks.
“Thank you for the support and this great experience,” Taylor said.
Bonnie Taylor echoed her daughter’s enthusiasm.
“Chicago and the state of Illinois have been so supportive of Special Olympics,” she said. “It’s been quite an honor.”