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HomeEvent CoverageSupport Our Troops Poker Run Galvanizes The Lake Of The Ozarks Community

Support Our Troops Poker Run Galvanizes The Lake Of The Ozarks Community

Jeremy Anderson and Ed Champion of Big Thunder Marine at the Lake of Ozarks in Central Missouri want to make one thing very clear about the Support Our Troops Poker Run, which celebrated its 16th anniversary last Friday. While the multi-location, multi-brand powerboat dealership at the popular waterway produces the daylong happening, it is not a “Big Thunder event.”

Fresh from its showcase last week at the Mercury Racing 500R outboard engine introduction in Charleston, S.C., this Fountain 38SCX center console was among the 75 boats in the 2023 Support Our Troops Poker Run. Photos by Jeff Helmkamp copyright Helmkamp Photos

Instead, Support Our Troops— an annual event benefitting the nonprofit H.E.R.O.E.S Care veterans services organization—is a true community happening. The Big Thunder team facilitates, organizes and underwrites most of it, but local businesses and powerboat enthusiasts are the keys to its ongoing success.

This year, that translated to 75 boats in the run, a day on the water for approximately 40 veterans and $23,000 raised for H.E.R.O.E.S Care.

“Everyone at the lake comes together for Support Our Troops,” Anderson explained. “We cover a lot of the ancillary expenses so that all of the money raised can go right to the troops and we have been happy to pick up that torch, but it takes a lot people to make it happen.”

Racing together next weekend in the Sarasota Powerboat Grand Prix, Loren Peters and Anthony Smith, Jr., enjoyed the day in Peters’ Super Stock-class catamaran.

Added Big Thunder Marine salesperson Ed Champion, “This event affects so many local businesses. Everyone gets involved.”

Among those businesses is DockWorks, which like Poly Lift Boat Lifts and WIA Marine Insurance is one of the poker-run’s primary backers. Like his fellow event backers, DockWorks owner Mike Hudson didn’t simply write a check. He participated in the run, which meant taking two veterans and five friends for the day in his new eight-seat MTI 390X catamaran.

“Participation and sponsorship of this event goes without saying—we’re talking about our troops,” Hudson said. “Support Our Troops is deeply rooted in our community. We get the opportunity to meet with them and let them live in our world for one day.

“It’s a great honor to be associated with the veterans and enjoy the day with them,” he continued. “You spend from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. with them—and I tell them when we start, ‘Your money is no good when you’re with us.’”

Hudson paused.

“One of the guys I took told he me was praying, ‘Please let me ride in an MTI, please let me ride in an MTI,’” he said, then laughed. “You should have seen his face when he saw the boat he’d be in for the day.”

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As it does every year, the Support Our Troops Poker Run attracted a broad range of high-performance catamarans, center consoles and V-bottom sportboats.

The head of WIA Marine Insurance, Chris Wagner has been involved with the run since day No. 1. He echoed Hudson’s sentiments regarding the community’s passion for the event. Like many of those involved, Wagner has family in the military.

Support Our Troops, he said, has become a don’t-miss event for Lake of the Ozarks locals.

“People show up, no matter what,” Wagner explained. “This year, we had amazing weather but we’ve had years when it was stormy and raining. And people still showed up.”

Loren Peters even showed up for the run in his Super Stock-class 32-foot Doug Wright raceboat, LPC. Alongside him in the cockpit was Anthony Smith, Jr., of the locally based H.P. Mafia engine and service shop. For Peters and Smith, the event served dual purposes.

“The run was great and we were proud to be part of it,” said Peters, who ran his first two offshore races this season with Mike Wright. “And Anthony is back in the saddle for the rest of the season, starting with Sarasota next weekend.”

No Support Our Troops Poker Run would be complete without Chad Prater and his “world’s fastest Baja.”

From its Dog Days home-base, the fleet headed to Bear Bottom Resort, Paradise Restaurant Bar, Nautifish Rum Bar, Franky and Louie’s Beachfront Bar and Grill, the Tap and Grill Lakeside Brew Haus, the Neon Taco, Lake Burger and Coconut’s Caribbean Bar and Grill. The participants returned to Dog Days to play their hands and celebrate what is for most folks involved—year in and year out—their favorite day on the water.

“Support Our Troops gets a lot of publicity because we are able to treat our veterans to a full day on the water and a really wonderful time,” Hudson said. “And this community wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Mike Hudson of DockWorks was honored to treat two veterans and five friends to a day on the water in his new 39-foot MTI catamaran.

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