River Running in a Giant Pumpkin

Man raises $16,000 for children's charity by rowing 150 miles down the Wisconsin River in a massive squash
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Man raises $16,000 for children's charity by rowing 150 miles down the Wisconsin River in a massive squash

Cinderella got around in a giant pumpkin, but at least it had wheels. Not so for JR Hildebrandt, who discovered that rowing a 760-pound pumpkin down 150 miles of the Wisconsin River was largely a game of chance and dubious ergonomics.

"We just cut the top off and put it in the water," he says. "It's a whole different ballgame—it kept flipping over and filling with water the whole way through. The hardest part was getting into lower Wisconsin; we had to pull it with a boat over sandbars and shallow water."

Hildebrandt spent 8 days rowing his seaworthy squash on the Wisconsin River to raise money for his charitable foundation, the Tri-City Children's Dream Foundation. At the conclusion of the trip in McGregor, Iowa, he pulled in $16,000—though his eventual hope is to raise $1 million to build a retreat for children with special needs.

"People thought it was crazy. I'd been canoeing before, but it hadn't been for 20 years," he says. "I don't know if I'd do it again unless I knew the water would be full the whole way through."

It's not Hildebrandt's first foray into goofy charitable adventures: In the past, Hildebrandt has organized dangerous-sounding lawnmower races...on ice. He took inspiration for this event from the annual giant pumpkin competition in his hometown of Nekoosa, Wisc.

"I haven't figured out what it'll be next," Hildebrandt says. "But I will come up with something to keep it going."

Winter's close—how about squash skiing? Just a suggestion.

To learn more about the Tri-City Children's Dream Foundation or to donate, visit http://childrensdream.org/ or call 877-232-9798.

—Ted Alvarez


Nekoosa man travels Wisconsin River in pumpkin boat for foundation (Marshfield News-Herald)