'Amazing Race' spin-off around downtown Chattanooga will help fill Christmas stockings

'Amazing Race' spin-off around downtown Chattanooga will help fill Christmas stockings

December 10th, 2012 by Susan Pierce in Life Entertainment

Josh and Heather Penny founded the Operation Secret Santa Facebook group, which is hosting the 'Noog Amazing Race on December 15 and 16. During the event, teams will find clues that lead them around downtown Chattanooga. Proceeds will help fulfill Christmas needs for local families.

Photo by Jake Daniels/Times Free Press.

If You Go

* What: The 'Noog Amazing Race

* Where: Starts at Coolidge Park

* When: Noon and 3 p.m. Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday

* Entry: $40 per adult; must have at least two adults per team, no limit on team size. One child free per each paid adult on team.

* Entrants' fundraiser: For every team that registers representing a school or church, $5 will be donated to that school/church.

* To register: www.noogamazingrace.org or day of event one hour prior to race time.

SAMPLE CLUE

"Hang around and swing into action,

Go to a place where you found childhood satisfaction.

Don't let your game slide, stop playing around,

Hurry and get over to this fun-loving ground."

Destination: Playground near the Tennessee Aquarium

Rules for The 'Noog Amazing Race

Fans of the Emmy-winning TV show "The Amazing Race" can test their brains and brawn this weekend in a local spin on the reality show.

The 'Noog Amazing Race, sponsored by Penny Productions, is a benefit for Operation Secret Santa, a nonprofit begun by Josh and Heather Penny.

The Pennys have mapped out three race courses for Saturday and Sunday, with different clues leading to eight to 12 race stops between Coolidge Park and AT&T Field for each race. Each stop will be staffed with a volunteer to guarantee that teams check in and don't skip a site, said Heather Penny.

Unlike TV, instead of Phil Keoghan waiting at the finish line to congratulate winners, two professional sports celebrities will surprise them. Heather Penny would only divulge one is an NFL player from the Atlanta Falcons and the other an Major League Baseball player from the Atlanta Braves.

All races will begin at Coolidge Park. Each team should have at least one smartphone among its members.

* Noon-2 p.m. Saturday: Competitive Edition, an athletically challenging race.

* 3-5 p.m. Saturday: Family Edition, comparable to a scavenger hunt so children can get involved.

* 2-5 p.m. Sunday: Amazing Race for God, all clues use biblical references that must be interpreted to find the next race destination.

Entrants in any race must sign a waiver that states they are physically capable of completing a race and the competitor will not hold Penny Productions liable in case of injury.

When Josh and Heather Penny launched their Operation Secret Santa Facebook page last month, they were hoping to find a few folks their family could help for Christmas.

They had 50 requests within five hours.

"It wasn't people asking for things like Xboxes and toys," Heather says. "They were asking for blankets, socks, underwear. What really got us was that the very first girl who posted said, 'I'm a single mom with three kids working two jobs for a roof over our head. I would like help for Christmas.'"

A dad of four said his van's transmission had gone out and he had no transportation, no way to get out to apply for jobs. Another man posted he had just lost his wife, but still had a 14-year-old boy and all the teen wanted for Christmas was school pants -- and the father didn't have the money to buy them.

The number of requests has increased to 100 requests, Josh says, and their goal is to fulfill as many as possible through proceeds of "The 'Noog Amazing Race" -- three fun-oriented races around downtown this weekend.

A spinoff of the popular reality TV show, the local event is sort of a hybrid between the reality show and geocaching. With the assistance of their smartphones, teams will crisscross 3.8 miles of the north and south shores of the Tennessee River in downtown Chattanooga, searching for clues at eight to 12 spots between Coolidge Park and AT&T Field.

THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS

Heather says the idea for a fundraiser came about as a way to show their own five children how fortunate they are, but the whole family has learned a lesson about the kindness of strangers.

"Already six families have had Christmas bought for them," she says.

Some of the secret Santas are friends, but others are total strangers who saw the need and volunteered their help, she says. For instance, a neighbor up the street is offering a family housing in one of his rental properties at a deeply discounted rate.

"A guy saw on Facebook the first mom's request. He messaged me and said he and his wife had been where she was and they would like to buy her children's Christmas," said Heather. "One guy took the family who needed a new transmission, and he's having it installed for free."

The Penny's oldest son says the message of gratitude has been received.

"We have a house, Playstation 3 and video games everywhere," said Kaleb Penny, 12, a sixth-grader at Loftis Middle School. "Kids are writing letters to my parents that say, 'I only want socks, underpants, school clothes or sometimes they ask for a little toy, like a Hot Wheels car. That's all they are wanting."

THREE RACES PLANNED

In preparation for the Christmas project, the Pennys held a "trial run" last year with 20 teams.

"We saw what we needed to correct and what worked," says Heather. "We saw it's not really about how fast you are. On the trial run, the fastest team actually came in last because they couldn't figure out the clue."

Some of the things they learned were bureaucratic -- they must notify the city's traffic controller of their route, reserve Coolidge Park with the Chattanooga Parks and Recreation Department and have their business, Penny Productions, registered with the secretary of state.

But, even though most folks associated road races with road closures, that isn't the case here.

"Since we (the competitors) don't travel in a pack, there was no need for road closures," she says.

Three races will be held over Saturday and Sunday. Just like the TV model, there will be challenges for competitors in addition to deciphering clues to find the next clue location. However, the local challenges will not be as strenuous as those seen on TV, said Penny.

"I'm afraid when people hear 'Amazing Race,' they'll think they aren't cut out for that and be scared off. But we're trying to make this a fun, family event," she says.

As examples, she says playing hopscotch or singing for diners at a downtown restaurant were among challenges in the trial-run race.

"People had to sing at Mellow Mushroom for people on the patio to get the next clue," recalls Kaleb.

"Downtown is a vibrant place to be. Anytime someone approaches us, we try our best to participate in events, if for no other reason than it gives people a chance to see us and it brings in new customers," says Travis Griffith, general manager of the Mellow Mushroom.

Heather says plaques will be awarded winners of each race.