Text by Heather Buchanan – Photos by Sporfot and Lois Spatz
The largest charitable fundraiser involving equestrians, the Great Charity Challenge presented by Fidelity Investments® at the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, FL raised $1.5 million dollars for 35 Palm Beach County charities last Saturday. That brings the eight-year total to $10.7 million dollars donated to help tens of thousands in need. It was “Yabba dabba doo!” as the pro-am relay riding team of Shane Sweetnam, Lindsey Tomeu, and Sedona Chamblee dressed as The Flintstones raced around the course to win for Urban Youth Impact. The winning team was sponsored by Spy Coast Farm & Preston with Equine Tack & Nutritionals.
A packed crowd of thousands came out to cheer on their favorite charity with the roar of applause for the horses and riders resplendent in their costumes. Mark Bellissimo who with his wife Katherine and daughter Paige founded the event noted the enormous effort it takes to put on the event where 35 teams of riders compete for randomly chosen charities. He said, “Without Anne Caroline Valtin [Executive Director of the GCC} it would not occur. Thanks to the 35 equestrian families and corporate sponsors who donate each year by sponsoring a team, and thank you to riders for donating your time and horses to this event.”
The winning pro rider Shane Sweetnam whose team won $150,000 for Urban Youth Impact commented, “It’s a fantastic cause, not just for our team, but for a lot of different foundations in the area. I don’t know if there’s anything like it in the country or anywhere else. The girls did a good job and I just finished it up.”
Amateur rider Tomeau said how hard they tried to win for their charity saying the experience was, “Amazing.” Chamblee who is only 15 echoed the sentiment that the added component of competing for charity was “really cool.”
Sponsor of the winning team Lisa Lourie of Spy Coast Farm noted, “It’s a great way to involve the community with our sport as well as for us to give back to the community – it’s a win/win. It also gets us involved in each other’s lives. Shane and I believe this is important. You just give back.” Fellow team sponsor Monica Preston added, “It’s great when a small charity can benefit so greatly.”
The winning charity was over the moon. They said, “Urban Youth Impact is there to love, empower and equip our inner-city children. This donation is going to be amazing. The charity does so much for the community, and this is a great way to provide them with the resources that the kids so desperately need. We are empowering the youth, and the youth are our future.”
Paige Bellissimo also spoke to the broader mission of the event and the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center, “This is one of the first events we did in 2010. The equestrian world used to be very closed off so this was a way to open it up to the community and have them feel like they had a stake in it. It introduces them to the sport and encourages them to come back.”
And that is worth raising a dinosaur bone to!
For full results and more information gcc.coth.com.