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Family breaks a sweat on Habitat for Humanity obstacle course

Camille Doty

By Camille Doty
Oct. 1, 2011 at 5:01 a.m.

Derek Oliva, 16, tries to walk though a waist deep water pit in an obstacle course during The Sweat Equity Challenge at Riverside Park on Saturday. This was the first time Oliva and his mother, Vickie Romero, have attended the event. Both completed the course in about 40 minutes.

Friday night, Vickie Romero cheered her son to victory at his high school game Friday night. But the next morning, she competed against him.

"I can't believe I'm doing this," she said while shaking her head with a smile.

"I have one goal - to beat my mom," said Romero's son, Derek Oliva.

The Victoria East High School sophomore was up for the challenge.

Before the main event, the mother and son helped each other stretch, slapped high-fives and hugged.

The Sweat Equity Challenge at Riverside Park served as a physical test for both of them while helping a good cause.

Proceeds from the challenge went to the Habitat for Humanity, Victoria (HFHV). The event also helped the organization to raise awareness of the "sweat equity" concept.

They were two of about 100 people who dared to conquer the 1.5-mile-long obstacle course.

As the race commenced, Romero and Derek became the 16-year-old left tackle versus the 39-year-old magazine publisher.

"You'll do more than I will, perhaps," Romero said to her son, who has 4-hour football practice every weekday.

"I'm going to see what's tougher - this or football," Derek said.

The obstacle course was created by Tom Austin. "It's a walk in the park," said the 59-year-old retired Marine.

"Anybody can do it. It's just how fast you're going to go," he said.

The stations were a test of upper-body strength and balance. Those who dared made 40-foot crawls through the mud, climbed ropes, and balanced themselves on poles. If someone couldn't complete the task, the JROTC volunteers ordered them to do 10 pushups.

In addition to the obstacle course, there were 5K and 10K runs, for the physically fit, couch potato races for TV aficionados and cook-offs for the food lovers. This was the event's third year.

The HFHV is a nonprofit Christian ecumenical housing ministry that builds homes in partnership with low-income families. Future homeowners receive a 30-year interest-free loan and pay about $350 a month. Habitat volunteer Sara Hounshell said instead of a down payment, future homeowners put in 300 hours of sweat equity. They also have to take financial and home ownership workshops.

Angela Cantu was there to put in her sweat equity and she's halfway there. She said becoming a homeowner is a possibility.

As a single mother of four, she didn't think she would ever have the means. Cantu said she drives by land everyday to take pictures of the progress because she is so grateful.

"This was a gift from God," she said. "There's no other explanation"

The customer service representative didn't climb rope or slush through the mud. But she did manage to break a sweat painting baseboards.

Romero and Derek stayed pretty close the whole competition. The son said the hardest part was walking through the mud.

As motivation, he told himself "If you stop, you'll get stuck.

Derek maintained a slight advantage over his mother, but she was on his heels,

"When I saw her right behind me, I started sprinting," he said. "I had to beat her by a little bit."

After Derek crossed the finish line, he went to assist his mother, who was hesitant to jump over the wall.

The doting son opened his arms to catch his mother and they crossed together.

"I came close this time," she said. "But I'm going to beat you next year."

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