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Pro athletes, firefighters return for SportsFest

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Brooke O'Donnell is your average 12-year-old girl -- except when she's on the water.

"There aren't a lot of kids my age that do this, but that's OK," she said. "When I'm out on the water, it's awesome. It's just natural for me."

Brooke was the youngest competitor in the Upstate Watercraft Promotions national championship held Saturday at Magic Island, where more than 200 professional watercraft racers from across the country competed on the Kanawha River.

The tournament was part of the fourth annual SportsFest, hosted by the Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The O'Donnells traveled from Woodstock, Ga., to cheer on Brooke, who received her third national title on Saturday for her freestyle Jet Ski tricks.

Although she was the only one to compete in her division in Charleston's Governor's Cup, Brooke said the title still means a lot to her.

"It's not all about winning, it's really fun," she said. "I like having competition, but today I still got to show off some of my favorite tricks -- like doing a handstand while riding. That's my favorite."

Saturday's SportsFest activities included an extreme beach volleyball competition and a firefighter combat challenge.

More than 30 fire departments from across the country raced along an obstacle course set up on Kanawha Boulevard to put their strength and endurance to the test.

Competitors had to climb stairs while carrying a 40-pound pack, push a piece of 120-pound steel to the finish line and "rescue" a 180-pound dummy.

The Shaw Air Force Base emergency team from South Carolina won the team relay competition.

"It's hard work, but it's fun for us because people get to see what it really takes to be a firefighter. We're glad the public gets a chance to see what we can do in a fun environment outside of rescue," said Steven Thomas, Shaw's team captain.

Musical acts and a variety of vendors lined Haddad Riverfront Park for the event, aiming to offer "something for everyone," said Samantha Carney, convention sales and special events manager of the Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau.

"The community is very excited -- even the athletes love coming into our city because of the flexibility we offer by combining the Island and the Boulevard," she said. "We're already looking forward to having our fifth event, next year."

On Sunday, volleyball continues at Magic Island, beginning at 9 a.m., and the watercraft competition gets underway again at 10 a.m.

Reach Mackenzie Mays at Mackenzie.mays@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5100.


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