CHARLOTTE (QUEEN CITY NEWS) — The 19th annual Hope Floats race was underway Sunday afternoon at the National Whitewater Center. 

“They call this race the hope floats race, and you feel it. It’s just hope that this community is here to support one another and lift each other up,” said Gray Caldwell. 

The nonprofit organization, Kindermourn, says the ducks represent hope and healing for thousands of families who are grieving the loss of a loved one. 

“Henry died on a Saturday and just didn’t wake up, really unexplained. We just kind of woke up, and he was gone. So, yeah, it’s been incredibly difficult—really kind of impossible, I would say,” Caldwell said. 

Abby and Gray Caldwell lost their 17-month-old son Henry last January.

“It took about 11 months to get the medical examiner’s report. And the hypothesis is that he was born with a really tiny hole in his diaphragm. And then, long story short, his stomach ruptured suddenly and inexplicably. Essentially, there was no air escaping into his chest cavity. And so there was no room for his heart to be their lungs to expand. And he died instantly,” he said. 

Kindermourn says they held this fundraiser to raise money for grief and bereavement services for families, like individual counseling, group counseling, and counseling that’s embedded in schools.

“What if we filled an entire pond with ducks and had them adopt them and honor our memory of children, adults, and other people in our lives that we’ve lost? And that’s how it got started. It’s this huge rush of energy. It’s just this incredible feeling of hope because it means every single one of those ducks represents hope and healing, and we sold out. And so it just means that we [at] Kindermourn are able to do so much more,” Executive Director Katie Ryan said. 

Over the past 19 years, the race has raised more than $2.5 million. This year, the nonprofit set a record by selling out with 50,000 rubber ducks dropped into the water.

Each represents a lost loved one. 

The organization raised about $325,000, exceeding its $250,000 goal.

“It goes a long way because we will never turn anyone away from a lack of ability to pay. And so when you come to Kindermourn, if you need our services, we’re here for you. We have a sliding scale. If you’re not able to pay, you don’t. If you are able to pay, you pay a level that’s commensurate with what you can afford,” Ryan said. 

The Caldwell’s team, Waddles for Henry, adopted nearly 600 ducks, totaling about $28,000. They brought home the first-place trophy.

“This is incredible. And Henry loved chocolate chip waffles. So I think they made a special trophy just for waffles for Henry with the little dollhouse waffles, and it’s really neat. Obviously, it makes us think of him,” Caldwell said.