"Behind the 8 Ball’ heads to the Czech Republic
A group of local rafters representing the United States in the upcoming world championships are on their way to Prague – but they need a little extra help getting there.
Team U.S.A. “Behind the 8 Ball” is made up of six members, all based in Vail, who will race for the U.S. at the World Whitewater Championships in the Czech Republic, Aug. 28-30. The team has enough money to get themselves and their boats there, but they are somewhat short on funds for accommodations and other expenses.
“We’ll probably be camping,” said Chip Carney, a team member.
So before they go, the team will hold a fund-raiser in Minturn.
“Our struggle is to get the team to these races,” said Chris “Mongo” Reeder, a team member.
In 1972, more than 40,000 people crowded the riverbanks at the Munich Olympics to witness the first international whitewater racing event. The sport grew into an industry with international recognition and mainstream attention.
“The competition is going to be tough,” Carney said.
Three years ago, one member, Mike Reid, approached the best rafters in the valley about competition, Carney said.
“All the guys on the team have been or are still raft guys in the valley,” Carney said. “(Reid) asked the guys in the valley if they wanted to form a team with goals of being national champions.”
“We all got to know each other really well on the river,” Reeder added.
There has been some turnover, but the team that remains became the U.S. National Champions, winning this year’s competition on the Upper Gauley River in West Virginia.
The location of the national and world competitions vary each year. The world championship competitions are designed to showcase “the best rivers in the planet,” Reeder said.
“I cannot wait to see (the river),” Reeder said. “I expect it to be phenomenal.”
About 30 countries are expected to compete in the world championships this year.
“We’re expecting stiff competition,” Carney said. “We’re not getting paid to do this kind of work. Some of the other teams get paid to raft, and they get paid to train. The team representing the Czech Republic is getting paid to be in this event.”
The overall events are decided by points based on a culmination of three races – sprint, slalom and down-river races, Carney said.
“We could go over there and win in the down-river race and do well enough to be the world champions,” he said. “But it all depends on the points.”
The team started training for the world championships in February. Throughout the summer, the team has competed in several events, including the Teva Mountain Games in Vail in June.
“It’s been good training ground for us,” Reeder said. “Our main focus is to get back after the world championships and be the national champions again for next year.”
Pre-season training began in mid-April in the gym with power and strength, he said. As the season neared, the team entered the river, practicing three nights per week on the water.
“We’re all into racing but not on this level,” Reeder said. “Once you get to this level, you have to be committed, (and) you have to be committed to the training.”
However, the team has an advantage when it comes to the rivers in the Czech Republic, he said.
“The river is identical almost to the rivers in Colorado,” Reeder said. “There, the rivers are steep with low volume – waterwise, anyway. And we train on similar rivers here on steep, creek-like waters.”
Behind the 8 Ball
Team U.S.A. “Behind the 8 Ball” boasts more than 50 years of combined experience. Each began their careers 10 years ago on different teams that represented rafting companies throughout the valley.
While the team was formed because of their talents on the river in the Vail Valley, all come from different parts of the country.
The teammates – Reid, Reeder, Carney, Tom Olson, Sean Vierling and Todd Toledo – grew up in Arizona, Ohio, Wisconsin and Boulder. All moved to the valley for the outdoor lifestyle – and the rivers.
The black raft that hails the team name derived from a number of suggestions but one lasting theme: “When we’re racing, we’re in the front, and everyone else is behind us – you’re behind the 8 ball,” Carney said.
Christine Ina Casillas can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 607 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.