It took Mandy Bowers nearly seven years, and several stops along the way, but the Indiana native has finally found a place to plant roots in the Middle Keys.
“When I got here, I felt like I found a place where I belonged,” she chuckled with her signature boisterous enthusiasm. “I knew when I came down that I could be easily entertained for a good 10 years, and I’ve got at least another five and a half years to go, so….”
The Indiana University graduate completed her studies in Telecommunications with a minor in German. Her college career also included a position as the dorm vice governor, an activities coordinator position of sorts that she explained, helped steer students away from the typical temptations of first-time freedom.
“We did things like sidewalk painting, but we couldn’t use brushes, so we used our hands!” she remembered. “It basically gave us something to do besides drink every night.”
She also obtained a certificate in Underwater Science as an Educational Resource, so she yearned to get to Florida and strap on a dive tank for a living.
That has yet to pan out, but this staple figure of the ‘Cane said she’s got no complaints.
After graduation, Mandy said she tried to run away to Florida but got stuck in a snowstorm in Chicago. Teenage summers spent at an area military academy camp as well as alternating summer exchanges with a German family helped expand her horizons beyond her small hometown of Hobart.
“I had friends from all over the world,” she explained. “The first summer we had an Iraqi kid, everyone cheered and went crazy. That never would have happened in my high school in my tiny town. It really helped make me who I am as far as open-mindedness.”
She also enjoyed her time as a springboard competitor on the local dive team. Interspersed with competitive sports were extracurricular activities like walk-a-thons and cancer awareness fundraisers that always kept her busy.
So, last year, when she and her friends Ceri and Claire, employees at Marathon’s Heron House saw the article about Karen Bowers’ (nope, no relation…they’ve checked!) initiative to begin an annual dragonboat festival at Sombrero Beach, they decided to organize a team.
“Karen invited all the non-profits to raise money for their respective organizations during the event, but most of them didn’t have the manpower to establish a team,” Mandy remembered.
After a presentation before the Marathon Jaycees and asking virtually everyone with whom she spoke to join a team, she’d collected enough paddlers for three teams.
“Twenty four team members breaks down evenly to about 50 bucks per person,” she explained. “With sponsorships, nobody’s charged with raising money, but with times a little more tough this year, everyone’s pretty much just raising their own money.”
Mandy said she and her many teammates are looking forward to this year because they’re a bit more educated about the whole process.
“Everyone’s really psyched about this year because they remember it from last year,” she continued. “The only people I lost this year were people who moved out of town. We even helped generate a lot more interest after everyone saw the races last year. With just one team, you can raise enough money to make a difference somewhere.”
The highlight of this year’s event will be paddling alongside her mother, who’s coming down from Indiana.
“I’m really excited my mom said yes to my invitation to come down and participate,” she laughed. “So many people came back and so many more people committed to paddling this year. Everything else aside, that’s awesome! The flow of energy never stopped. They never forgot what they experienced on that one day last year.”
Hair pic series
Three years ago, Mandy donated her long locks to St. Baldricks, an organization that cuts and collects hair for making wigs for kids with cancer. She told her employers and friends at the Hurricane that as her hair grew back out, she wanted it to always look big and crazy and colorful “like a birthday cake!” Mari and Sav not only assured her she’d still have a job, they began giving her the supplies to keep the crazy creations coming.
“People are still coming in and asking, ‘Does that girl with the crazy hair still work here?’” Mandy laughed.
On the third anniversary of her original buzz, Mandy went back up to Lake Worth two months ago to participate in the event once again. Her creations have ranged from a Christmas tree to a huge surfer wave and even a bottle of Jagermeister!