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Falmouth couple hope to drive attention to missing kids

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Falmouth couple hope to drive attention to missing kids

FALMOUTH — To raise awareness about a missing Maine teenager, and for the adventure, a Falmouth couple will criss-cross the northeast in an annual automotive adventure-rally that starts Saturday.

Bill and Valerie Sowles of the Morong Falmouth auto dealership on Route 1 are “Team Goin' Home,” one of 40 teams participating in the sixth Fireball Run, an annual event started in 2007 to raise awareness about missing children.

David Hickman, production executive for the event, said the Fireball Run began as a rolling, networking event before morphing into its current form. The eight-day rally covers 2,000 miles, makes stops in 14 cities, and the participants include Long Beach Grand Prix winner Shea Holbrook.

“We knew from the very beginning that we wanted it to have some sort of charitable aspect and we wanted to focus the media attention toward something positive,” Hickman said. “We could have picked any charity, but the fact that we were going from location to location to location, it made sense for us to raise awareness for missing children."

The Sowles' got involved after receiving a postcard about the event in the mail last March.

“We didn't know when we first saw it, we thought it looked like an adventure, so we signed up,” Valerie said. “Then we got the whole packet saying exactly what it involves.”

The Sowleses will leave with the rest of the teams from Independence, Ohio, on Saturday and end their journey in Bangor on Sept. 29.

While the event is billed as a race, there are obstacles including a “mission” in each city and speed restrictions that can get participants thrown out.

“It's all timed, but it's not a race in the sense of speed,” Valerie said. “If you speed you get points taken away from you and they'll throw you out. They put a GPS in the car that tracks how fast you're going and they give you three warnings. We're expected to arrive at our next destination within two hours and we have a window of time from two to four to get there, and if we go past that window we don't earn our points and we have to move on to the next thing.”

At each stop the teams have to solve a clue that tells them what kind of service they are to perform for the local community.

“At every stop you're expected to give to the community,” Bill Sowles said. “It's all charity-based; we will solve the clue, stop somewhere, buy whatever we have to buy and go on to the next stop.”

The clues guide the teams to the next location and outline a service to be performed, like purchasing teddy bears for local police departments to distribute or volunteering time. No cash is distributed by teams along the way.

In addition to traveling city to city and participating in challenges, each team is assigned a local missing child to publicize. The Sowles' Porsche 911 Carrera S will feature a photo of 17-year-old Aydriana Tetu of Lewiston, who ran away from home in April.

According to Valerie, one of the major concerns for finding Tetu is that as a child she was diagnosed with lymphoma and her mother is concerned that the disease may resurface.

In each city the teams will put up posters of their missing children. To date the Fireball Run has reportedly assisted in the recovery of 38 missing children and teenagers.

“It's extremely emotional because we're all posting photos of missing children,” Valerie said. “Last year there was a gentleman who got up and spoke whose two children were missing and being featured with one of the teams and they actually were recovered at a homeless shelter in Vancouver.”

This is the first year the Fireball Run has come to the northeast corner of the country. Next year the event is slated to happen on the West Coast. Live coverage of the event will be available on the at fireballrun.com.

Amber Cronin can be reached at acronin@theforecaster.net or 781-3661 ext. 125. Follow her on Twitter @croninamber.