Paddlers cite fitness in win at nationals
TEAM 9 BALL
United States Rafting Association 2015 R-6 National Champions
John Mark Seelig
EDWARDS — John Mark Seelig has seen a lot of competitive whitewater rafting in his day. What he saw last weekend at the USA Rafting R-6 National Championships, though, showed him he can still learn a lot from the younger guys.
Seelig was a member of the old 8 Ball team, Chris “Mongo” Reeder’s legacy with Timberline Tours, who won many national championships in their day. After Reeder retired, Seelig and a couple of other local remaining 8 Ballers joined forces with Breckenridge residents Matt Norfleet and John Anicito to form the Arc Sharks. Last year, they won nationals and competed in the World Rafting Championships four-man event in October.
“We put that team together and did pretty well, but I just couldn’t travel up (to Summit County) anymore,” Seelig said. “But really, more than anything, I wanted to get some guys together who were local, who were young, and kind of pass the torch to these guys.”
Seelig, who you may remember from his daring retrieval of a wayward raft at the Teva Mountain Games (YouTube “Teva Bridge Jump”), will soon be 39, is now the father of a 14-month-old daughter, and he knows his days in top-level whitewater competitions are numbered. So this year, he and remaining 8 Baller Seth Kurt-Mason set about recruiting local athletes and whitewater rafters to train with them leading up to this year’s six-man national championships on Friday and Saturday.
“We didn’t get much time in the water as a team, but we spent a lot of time in the gym together,” Seelig said. “I was amazed how much of a difference that made.”
‘SHOULD WE EVEN SHOW UP?’
The local group — comprised of Seelig, Seth Kurt-Mason, Jeremiah Williams, Jordan Kurt-Mason, Robbie Prechtl and Kurt Kincel — took on the handle The 9 Ball Team and, like anyone else headed for the national championships, were quite intimidated by their competition. While they were training in the gym, Seelig’s former Arc Shark teammates were hard at work assembling an all-star squad and training on the water together with Team Colorado as their name.
“They posted a video of them two weeks before and we were like ‘Oh my God, should we even show up?’” Seelig said. “They just looked so dialed and smooth. We thought this year we’ll just show up, have fun, get some experience, hopefully come in second and then next year we’ll make our big push.”
When nationals came around on Friday, the 9 Ballers weren’t taking things too seriously at first. The opening race was the sprint, a timed event where teams run a section of river solo, competing against the clock.
“I felt like it went pretty well, but I didn’t think we did that great” Seelig said. “So I got everybody together so they could watch how smooth and solid these other guys were, and when they crossed the finish and the announcer said Team 9 Ball was still in first we couldn’t believe it.”
Encouraged, Team 9 Ball took to the three remaining competitions with ferocity.
The next event, a 7-mile mass-start downriver, was described by Seelig as “a 40-minute battle.” When Team 9 Ball crossed the finish line victorious, it signified a changing point in the overall competition.
“We all kind of realized maybe we weren’t just a fluke,” Seelig said.
The next day, in the head-to-head sprint, new team member Robbie Prechtl is credited with a near single-handed victory, as Seelig and others were hardly able to paddle.
“The boats were smashed together, but Rob could still get his paddle stroke on that side, so he was paddling alone for the whole side of the boat,” Seelig said.
As the winner of the championships was based on the team who accumulated the most points in the four competitions, Team 9 Ball had sealed their victory with the winning of the head-to-head on Saturday. As of Monday, they still had not seen the results of the final race, a slalom.
THE GOAT STROKE
Seelig says it was endurance, not technical skill in the water, that won R-6 nationals for Team 9 Ball last weekend.
“Our technical side was not our strong suit, it was our fitness,” he said. “We were just able to outlast them.”
When the longtime Lakota Guides owner decided to start up the Goat Gym in Edwards next to Lakota, he didn’t expect it would help contribute to the greatest upset he himself has witnessed in the Colorado whitewater scene.
New Team 9 Ball member Jeremiah Williams said the long hours spent in that gym paid off for him in ways he didn’t realize.
“I started doing more specific and fine tuning type workouts here in mid-February,” Williams said from Goat Gym on Monday. “I feel like everything we did in here made my paddling that much better, and that was the edge that we got on those guys.”
With a laugh, Williams added, “On my own I would never have done some of the stuff in the gym that we were doing. They would push me to do the hard stuff, and that made the difference.”
Of course, with World Championships next, now the hard stuff really begins for Williams and the new team members as they have to learn another skill: fundraising. The good news is they have some time, as the World Championships will be held in Indonesia and aren’t until Dec. 1.
They plan on holding an event at the Minturn Saloon on Aug. 16, where you can show up, wish them luck and make a donation to the young men who will be representing the U.S. on the world stage.
“We’re competing against nationally funded teams, so we have a lot of hard work in front of us just getting there,” Seelig said.
Learn more about the World Rafting Championships in Indonesia by visiting http://www.internationalrafting.com/.