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2022 Baltimore Kinetic Sculpture Race recap

“Like Punching a Mountain in the Face”

By Crystal Thurber

“Does everyone on the sculpture have a life jacket?” the Dockmaster bellowed.

I’d been waiting for this day for months, no, years.

Grinning fiercely, I thumped my newly-purchased, purple life jacket. The Dockmaster checked the rest of our safety requirements, then started the countdown to the uproarious approval of the crowd.


A whiteboard with sketches for the kinetic sculpture.
Early planning for the 2022 sculpture

After hundreds of hours and many late nights from about 15 people, our team had created an elegant and functional “masterpiece”, complete with themed costumes and bribes (fully sanctioned and expected bribes, of course). We’d combined the tools and expertise of nearly every shop and shop steward in the Nova Labs Makerspace; wood and metal shops, 3D printing, and Crafters’ Cove.


I narrowed my eyes at the churning waters of the Baltimore Harbor. With an average temperature of about 50°F at that time of the year, that water would be cold. While the Coast Guard and the BCFD were out in force, there had been gale warnings and small craft advisories. Good thing we were required to be tethered to a crew member standing on the pier.

We’d completed multiple test rides and floats.

Team members prepare to enter the water with the kinetic sculpture.
Getting ready for a water test


So many of us had learned brand-new skills as we pushed ourselves and each other to greater possibility.


Sometimes we disagreed and argued. But in the end, we were a team. A family.


This event would probably have been easier if I’d trained for it. At all. Ah well. No way but forward and through, to my personal best. I had a team to uphold.


My teammates and I pedaled the Time Maker furiously into the water, me cackling wildly. I was already exhausted from bicycling several miles more that day than I had in seasons. But we powered through and returned triumphantly to shore. I felt like I had just punched a mountain in the face! No one watching could guess that I’d been battling mild-to-moderate levels of depression for months. But they could probably guess that this wacky STEAM dream-come-true had returned a piece of my soul to me.

The Nova Labs kinetic sculpture at the start line.
The Time Maker getting ready to start

The entire day of the Baltimore Kinetic Sculpture Race, held on May 7, 2022, perfectly reflected everything I have come to expect of my fellow makers at Fairfax, VA’s Nova Labs: people who are welcoming, encouraging, and lovably weird. The other competitors asked good questions about our designs, were delighted to answer my questions, were ready to lend a hand, and wished us a good race. In the opening ceremony, we were reminded that we were celebrating humanity and love, and that while it is easy to destroy, the power to create brought us all together.

Working on a set of concrete goals helped my maker team to create something unforgettable. Achieving these goals also gave me a sense of purpose, belonging, and motivation for the first time in months. And when the time came to strive against my foe, whether a stiff cross-current in the rain, or depression, my team helped me through.

That is my Kinetic Sculpture Race. That is my Nova Labs.

Members of the 2022 Nova Labs kinetic sculpture team stand in front of the Time Maker.
The 2022 team (most of them at least)


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