July 1, 2006 – Christopher Joseph and Andre Alicea had the time of their lives Saturday.
The two were among several teenagers who found themselves with a face full of dust or nursing aches and pains after they were thrown – more than once – off donkeys during the Emancipation Day celebration races at the Randall "Doc" James Racetrack.
The Donkey Race was sponsored by the Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow Committee of the History, Culture and Tradition Foundation, which is commemorating the 158th year celebration with a series of cultural events.
By 3 p.m. Saturday, only one of the eight races had been run, Mary Moorhead of the foundation said, as volunteers worked to corral the donkeys that had decided they would rather be back on St. John.
Moorhead said that 13 donkeys were captured from the wild on St. John and shipped to St. Croix to take part in the cultural event.
On Saturday, she and several others, including volunteers like rancher Hans Lawaetz and Roy Rodgers of Gentlemen of Jones, waited to start the second race.
Nearby, Joseph could have qualified for a gymnastic bar routine as he ran up to the donkey, flung himself in the air and fell astride the donkey's back in one smooth motion. Minutes later, however, he was dusting himself off from a grassy patch, where the donkey had unceremoniously dumped him.
Alicea was also having a hard time – his red jogging pants had already split from trying stay atop the donkey – but a rosy smile was planted on his face.
"This is just fun," he said as Rodgers and Lawaetz pushed from behind, urging the donkey forward. After a few failed starts, the donkey took off and made it all the way around the makeshift track.
"It was fun because the donkey was jumping and kicking," Alicea said after the race. "I had to try my best to calm him down so I could finish the race but especially so I could stay on top without him pitching me down."
Moorhead said that trophies and ribbons would be given to the winners but Alicea said he will hold on to his other trophy – the torn red jogging shots.
"I was holding on hard, as you can see," he said with a laugh while showing the torn area.
The donkeys were supposed to go around barrels held together with ropes, and with names like Mary and Princess, it seemed plausible that they would do just that, but throughout the afternoon, when the riders were not thrown off, the donkeys would gallop away or stand their ground.
At times, it took three people to corral them. Delegate Donna M. Christensen, whose husband Christian is a member of Gentlemen of Jones, was among the various people watching the comical antics of man and beast. The men would pull on the reigns to try to get the donkey to move and it would stand its ground, all the while hee-hawing its complaints. The crowd erupted in laughter.
"With donkey races, you can't help but have fun whether the race is being run or trying to get started," she said while laughing. "They don't seem to want to go around the barrels and it looks like we're going to have to cut the races down. We were supposed to have obstacle and relay races with them."
Rodgers said that back in the 1950s and 60s, donkey racing was an art form.
"When I was a kid, donkeys were prevalent in Frederiksted and we had donkeys that were as fast as horses," he said. "There was a man who would hold donkey races and a lot of people would come out to enjoy it just like they're doing today."
Rodgers said that the Gentlemen of Jones, which assisted on Saturday, will sponsor the Donkey Races next year as part of the local celebration.
Rodgers said he learned some lessons on Saturday for the next time that the donkeys race.
"I would like to see some kids adopt them and ride them so that they will be ready for next year," he said.
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