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 Healing Heroes with Sports founder Roger D’Eath and Anna Marie Miller, of Miller Marina, stand in front of the hydroplane boat that will be retrofitted to accommodate injured veterans and first responders.

Healing Heroes with Sports founder Roger D’Eath and Anna Marie Miller, of Miller Marina, stand in front of the hydroplane boat that will be retrofitted to accommodate injured veterans and first responders.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes


Organization to rehabilitate old hydroplane for use by veterans, first responders

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published April 27, 2018

 Denise Garl and Jay Leckrone, of Auburn, Washington, drove the Miss DiJulio across the country to donate it to the organization.

Denise Garl and Jay Leckrone, of Auburn, Washington, drove the Miss DiJulio across the country to donate it to the organization.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

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ST. CLAIR SHORES — Roger D’Eath grew up with hydroplane racing in his blood.

His father, Al D’Eath, raced “My Sweetie” and his brother won three Gold Cups. 

“This is what I did for my early life,” explained the Venice, Florida, resident. 

He also raced hydroplane unlimited boats on the Detroit River 50 years ago, so he knows the feeling of hitting speeds over 100 mph on the river as the boat virtually flies over the water. 

That’s the feeling he wants to share with veterans, first responders and other “heroes” who have served the country. The mission of Healing Heroes with Sports, a 501(c)(3) organization he founded, is to provide wounded veterans and first responders with adaptive sports and recreational activities.

D’Eath was in the golf business for many years, creating clubs used by champions. He started getting involved with some adaptive golf charities before deciding to begin his own charity three years ago. He thought back to his youth and said that he couldn’t think of a bigger thrill than hydroplane racing. 

And on April 21, a hydroplane that last raced the Detroit River in 2015 made its way across the country from Washington state to help make D’Eath’s dream of taking heroes for a ride a reality. 

Denise Garl and Jay Leckrone, of Auburn, Washington, own the Centurion Unlimited hydroplane racing team. They purchased the Miss DiJulio in 2014 and raced the boat that year and in 2015. The boat had a storied history — it was driven by Dave Villwock in 1996, the winningest driver in hydroplane unlimited history, they said. 

But after the 2015 season, the team stopped using the boat. It was set to become a display boat when the couple got a call from D’Eath. 

“It seemed better than letting it sit in storage” to give the boat to the Healing Heroes with Sports organization, Leckrone said. “I had 13 years in the Army, so I know about post-traumatic stress disorder.”

His brother-in-law is also a firefighter.

“It just seemed like a good thing,” he said of the organization’s goals. 

The boat is being stored at Miller Marina in St. Clair Shores right now. In the coming months, it will be converted with an outboard motor and seats so that veterans and first responders can experience a hydroplane ride at more than 100 mph. 

“We want to help our heroes,” said Anna Marie Miller, an owner of Miller Marina who is now helping Healing Heroes with Sports. “I’ve known Roger for years. His father knew my father.”

To raise money for the boat’s modifications, Healing Heroes with Sports is looking for donors to purchase $180 charter memberships that will allow them to go for a ride on the hydroplane, Miss Healing Heroes with Sports, once modifications are complete. 

Healing Heroes with Sports will also have an office in the Non-Profit Center at Pare Elementary School. 

D’Eath said that when it is fully modified and refurbished, the boat will travel around the country. 

For more information or to donate, contact Roger D’Eath at (941) 484-0984. Donations can be sent to Healing Heroes with Sports, 120 Grand Oak Circle, Venice, FL 34292.

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