Running the rivers wild
I do not know much about gods; but I think that the river is a strong brown god — sullen, untamed and intractable. -T.S. Eliot, “Four Quartets”, The Dry Salvages
These are the slow days for Katherine Bugby, the time of the year when the temperature drops and the rivers, once untamed and reckless, curl up under winter’s blanket and hibernate for the time being.
There is still work to be done though, especially after Bugby’s women’s rafting team of valley locals Lisa Reeder, Dawn Vogler, Jody Swoboda, and out-of-towners Daisy Fair and Cristin Shively outpaddled two other U.S. teams recently to win this year’s Whitewater Cup on West Virginia’s upper Gauley River, the crowning event of all U.S. rafting races.
“Winter is pretty much offseason, providing that your world championship is in the summertime,” said Bugby. “In the winter time, you’re going to have to figure out how you are going to paddle. We went to the Colorado River in December and January last year. It was super cold. There were ice bridges and snow bridges and we had to push our raft across.”
Bugby’s team, along with the Vail men’s team Behind the Eight Ball, both won the national rafting championship at this year’s Whitewater Cup, meaning that both teams are the U.S. representatives in international rafting competition for the next calendar year. It was the second consecutive national championship for the men’s team, who in August, finished fourth at the World Rafting Championships held on the Vltava River in the southern part of the Czech Republic.
“It was the best U.S. finish ever,” said Chris Reeder of Eagle-Vail, known as “Mongo” by his teammates. “Previous to that, the best a U.S. team had ever done is seventh.”
Despite being the best U.S. athletes in their sport, both teams of locals are relative unknowns on the national sporting scene, not to mention their local community – a truth that is evidenced by the fact that competitive rafting doesn’t have the same following in the States as it does in Europe and South America.
Unlike the European teams with whom they compete, which are made up entirely of professional paddlers, the Eagle County locals who run on both the men’s and women’s teams have to support themselves by other means, other than just dipping their paddles.
“We all have real jobs,” said Mike Reed, team captain of Behind the Eight Ball. “Mongo and Chris Olsen are ski patrollers, Chip Carney works for the Eagle County Fire Department, and I’m at Beaver Creek Ski School.”
The two other team members, Todd Toledo and Olli Dose, who is new to the team this year after replacing Sean Vierling, do make their living as rafting professionals, albeit outside of U.S. borders. Toledo manages a rafting company in Honduras during the winter and Dose owns a rafting company in Chile running the Futelelfu river.
If having to work day jobs wasn’t enough of a disadvantage for the American teams in terms of competing in international competition, the infrastructure which exists to support professional rafting, specifically in the European ranks is far superior to the small time support that is in place in the United States.
“The Czech team that won at the last world championship, they are completely professional,” said Reeder. “They had a at team of twenty members, and they just pick and choose the best six for their boat. The Germans who got second, every member of their rafting team has an Olympic medal from paddling. They take all their best kayakers and use them for their raft team.”
Added Reed, “The level of competition they have in Europe is huge. The amount of the money they have, the resources, the coaching – it’s just incredible.”
One of the biggest struggles which both teams face is generating enough money from corporate sponsors, both local and national to cover travel expenses and training costs. With the Rafting World Championships being held once every two years, both teams will have to win nationals again next year to be the U.S. representatives in 2005, but they still plan to compete in as many international races as possible this year, depending on how much money comes in.
“We’ve been invited to a bunch of other other races,” said Reeder. “There’s a race in India in March. There’s a four-man event in Greece as a forerunner to to Olympics in April. There’s two races in Canada that we’ve been invited to, so we have lots of alternatives that we are looking at. We would love to go to all of them. It’s just a matter of finding a sponsor for us to go. Unfortunately, right now, we have to pick and choose.”
Reeder believes the team will most likely focus in on the race in Greece, being that the field will be stronger than the competition in India. The only drawback is that the entire six man team won’t be able to compete at once since the race is an four-man competition.
“The one in India would be nice, but the one in Greece will have a little bit more exposure,” said Reeder. “A lot of the best teams will show up, and we will have a lot more competition at that race.”
Ideally, Reed and Mongo would like to find a large corporate sponsor that could supplement the the team with $20,000 – $30, 000 instead of trying to earn smaller amounts from hitting up local businesses.
“We were very fortunate last year. Before we went to the world championships, the community was wonderful, doing fund-raising for us,” said Reed. “The Sonnenalp and some other local business really helped us out. But, you can only tap into the the local community so much. We’re looking at big national sponsors like Reebok or Coke, a large corporation that could spend $20,000 30,000, and it wouldn’t hit them so hard.”
Regardless of the financial uncertainty, both teams are gearing up for the start of next season.
Bugby’s team will train everywhere from the Avon Rec Center this winter, to some of the local lakes in the spring and summer, as well as doing river-specific training when the season starts.
“We do it on whatever river it is that we’re running,” said Bugby. “We practice on the Colorado, Clear Creek, Eagle, Arkansas. Definitely, because a lot of us are locals, we do the Eagle quite a bit. We also train on the lakes, practicing on technique and sprints and strength, that kind of stuff.”
Behind the Eight Ball will do a lot of its training at the Vail Cascade Resort and Spa in the indoor months, before it can get back in the water.
“The Vail Cascade has been kind enough to let us use their facility and, Howard Head Sports Medicine has been doing work with us,” said Reed. “They came up with a resistance training program, to get us ready for these events.”
For results from this year’s Whitewater Cup, as well as more information on upcoming events and rules log onto http://www.rapidpulse.net.
Nate Peterson is a sports writer for the Vail Daily. He can be reached at (970) 949-0555, ext. 608 or via firstname.lastname@example.org.