Snoqualmie's second Challenge soapbox race makes for big smiles, independence and new friends | Photo Gallery

Patrick Lawrenson challenges his driver, Zack Hochman, and the neighboring car, with Nick Hawley and Wilson Toft, to race faster, during the LEO Challenge Race, October 19 in Snoqualmie. - Seth Truscott/Staff Photo
Patrick Lawrenson challenges his driver, Zack Hochman, and the neighboring car, with Nick Hawley and Wilson Toft, to race faster, during the LEO Challenge Race, October 19 in Snoqualmie.
— image credit: Seth Truscott/Staff Photo

Sam Clayton was having the time of his life. Waving the finish line flag with help from North Bend teen Peyton McCulley, in a few hours he’d jump into his own soapbox derby car for a thrilling ride with a new friend.

Sam, age 9,  was one of about a dozen children with developmental disabilities to participate in the Valley’s second annual Challenge Race. It’s an important moment for kids like Sam, and their families.

“It’s something kids can do without parents having to do the hands-on thing,” said Nancy Whitaker, president of LEO, or Life Enrichment Options.

LEO is an Eastside nonprofit that helps people with developmental disabilities reach their goals through housing, work, education and play.

The Rotary Club of Snoqualmie Valley partnered with LEO to put on the race, which was bumped by rain in September but held on a dry but chilly morning, Saturday, Oct. 19, on a closed section of Snoqualmie Parkway.

The Challenge race is an Eastside staple that’s new to the Valley. And it’s important, explains Whitaker. Besides giving parents a break, the race mixes children with developmental disabilities with their peers and neighbors, showing them “that they can have fun and do things, too. They’re not strangers. They can make friends.”

“One of the greatest benefits is that the community comes together to do it,” added Whitaker. “It’s not dependent on the parents to make it happen.”

There’s no cost to families for the race. All the cars are built by volunteers.

The ride starts slow, as cars leave the gate. But gravity soon takes over. It feels a lot faster when you’re sitting in the cars, a few inches above the ground.

Tyler McConnell, a freshman from North Bend, handed out high fives to riders who beamed and sometimes shrieked with joy at the finish line.

“They’re definitely having fun,” said McConnell, who was among a group of Mount Si wrestlers who volunteered to help. “It makes you feel really good.”

As Silas Palmisano raced past, “you could see a big smile on his face,” said his mom, Lynne, of Fall City.

Fifteen-year-old Silas tried the Challenge Race a few years ago. His family didn’t know what to expect, but when they saw that he was actually driving a car himself, “It was just a big smile the whole way. He couldn’t wait to do it again,” said Lynne. Now, because he’s getting older and heavier, this looks like his last year.

“I liked the ride,” he told me.

“I think it’s a really good cause,” said Maddie Moorhead, 12, a Snoqualmie resident paired up with Silas to win their heat. She volunteered with a friend to help drive the cars, and had fun as she raced time and again down the hill.

You can learn more about Life Enrichment Options at


Seth Truscott/Staff Photos

Mount Si wrestlers and volunteers help racers ready for action.

Racers start rolling slow, as Jessica Kitz drops the flag. But they soon pick up speed.

Ryley Absher and Eli Clure heft a car for the return trip

Sam Clayton, 9, waves the finish-line flag with help from Peyton McCulley and Tyler McConnell.

Kazu Ohta and Wilson Toft race ahead in their trip down the hill.

Jessica Kitz holds the checkered flag at the start gate.

Maddie Moorhead pets a bunny at the animal booth.


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