Dissecting the anatomy of a rafting team
VAIL – Katherine “Bugs” Bugby knows how much of a difference seven years can make.When she started a Vail Valley-based women’s rafting team in 1998, the team didn’t have its own boat, used plastic paddles and had little idea of what was the proper paddling technique.”In 1998, my friend Daisy and I had discovered that there was national and world women’s rafting competitions,” Bugby said. “Nationals were going to be in Colorado, so I said, ‘Let’s get our best paddlers, get a temporary coach, and put a team together.'”Seven years later, the rafting team, replete with different faces, better equipment and a refined paddling technique, grabbed the bronze medal recently in the downriver race at the world championships in Ecuador.”It made it all worth it,” Bugby said of the hard training the team had endured during the previous year.Each year, there seems to be something that justifies all the hard work the team puts in on and off the river.”I feel like a lot of it is the achievement,” said Cristin Zimmer, the team’s youngest member. “I love doing the downriver and having a strong sense of empowerment from running Gore Canyon with a group of girls.”
The current group team is formed by Bugby (captain), Zimmer, Jodia Swoboda, Gabriela Knedlik, Lisa Saczille, Lisa Reeder and Dawn Vogeler.All of the members have cultivated a passion for paddling. And much like the rafting team came into existence on a whim, some of the members joined under the same auspices.”I found out about the team and tried out one day,” said Knedlik, who had only kayaked before. “What made me stay with it, was being on a team with great women.”Testing the waterFrom the team’s first race in 1998, to its most recent international competition, there have always been a few surprises.”In 1998, we came in second to a team from California that had been together since 1989,” Bugby said. “We had trained three times a week, but we looked at them and said, ‘Oh, I see what it’s all about now.'”The next year, they faced a more beefed-up California team, but had gained some ground, losing in the downriver by only one minute, and in the sprint by only a second.
“We were still a little lost,” Bugby said. “We didn’t have a coach, didn’t have a fast raft, and were still racing with plastic paddles. And, we weren’t making much progress with our training.”In 2000 Bugby brought on some Class V rafters, bought paddles and a raft and picked up a new coach. Also, they changed their racing philosophy.”We started breaking the races down individually and specifically training for the three races (downriver, slalom and sprint),” Bugby said.The team won the 2000 nationals at Gore Canyon and then went to its first international competition, the Camel Whitewater Challenge held on the Zambezi river in Zambia.”It was huge whitewater,” Bugby said. “There were truck-eating holes of water. We were so nervous they were having trouble sleeping at night, but our team was made up of such grit. Nobody admitted they were scared.”For the current team, what once was the cause of trepidation is now the source of strength.”We weren’t super impressed by the whitewater (in Ecuador),” Zimmer said. “It was Class III, but we do our best on the downriver on Class V rapids.”
Constant fluctuationIn the team’s nascent stages, all of the paddlers worked at Timberline Tours, so finding practice time wasn’t too much of a hassle.In the past few years, however, the paddlers have held different jobs and schedules, and finding a comparable practice time has been challenging.”I could go kayaking after work,” said Zimmer, who lives and works in Buena Vista. “But instead, I drove to Vail to paddle.” While racing in Ecuador, Zimmer and the rest of the team made sure to enjoy everything that surrounded the event, including parades and parties.”You need to train hard to go to this thing, but I think it’s more about participating and having a good time,” Zimmer said.And Bugby knows from experience that throwing six Olympic paddlers on a boat won’t cut it.”You really have to have trust and respect for your teammates,” Bugby said. “You can’t just put a bunch of skilled girls together.”
Years laterDedication is what formed the team, and has kept it alive and thriving. Since 1998, the driving force behind the boat, the paddlers say, has been Bugby. “Bugs is the one that keeps bringing it from year to year,” Knedlik said. “She puts so much heart and soul into the team.”Bugby admits that between finding a schedule that fits and scouting new members, it can be taxing. “Sometimes, it takes every ounce of energy in my body,” Bugby said. “Also, it can only happen with a group effort. Our bosses, employers, donors, and the whole community here know it’s important to us help out a ton.”Other paddlers are just as dedicated. Reeder only let two pregnancies take her off the water, but then promptly returned.While Reeder is a mother off the water, Bugby is the maternal figure on the water.
“You can talk to her about anything and she’ll make sense of it all,” Knedlik said. “No matter what happens on the water, she wants to make it so we are still the best of friends afterwards.”Eventually, Bugby realizes she’ll have to step down from the team. When she does, she has only one wish.”When my yoga teacher left, she told me the greatest gift I could give her was to keep practicing,” Bugby said. “I want this team to keep going on.”Bugby has already put the pieces in place, demoting herself from the raft guide, and putting in Zimmer in her stead.”I never thought when I first joined I would be guiding the boat at the World Championships,” Zimmer said. ” Now I feel I can do it again.” With that attitude, Bugby and the rest of the team need not worry too much.Sports Writer Ian Cropp can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14631, or email@example.com.