Vail-area paddlers to compete at whitewater rafting world championships
Event starts May 13 on Cassowary Coast in Australia
Mongo gets the easy job this year.
An all-star team of Eagle County and Summit County locals is set to compete in the International Rafting Federation World Rafting Championships. The six-man squad qualified for the 2019 championships in September, winning the National Championship on the New and Gauley River in West Virginia.
John Mark Seelig, Robbie Prechtl, Jeremiah Williams, Matt Norfleet, John Anicito and Kurt Kincel comprise the six-man squad, but they were permitted to bring an alternate and coach.
“He gets the easy job,” Seelig said with a laugh. “But he earned it.”
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Local whitewater legend Chris “Mongo” Reeder, now a masters-division competitor, was selected as the alternate. The team leaves for Australia this week.
LEARNING FROM THE BEST
With a long winter just now wrapping up, the championships aren’t coming at the best time for the local competitors.
Seelig said the team was probably in better rafting shape at the end of last season, when they defeated a few other tough teams to qualify for worlds last fall.
Nevertheless, they’ve been committed to fitness during their time off the water, something that has become a more focused effort on the team since Seelig got into the gym business a few years ago (he owns Goat Gym in Edwards and Eagle).
The local team also made it to the World Championships in Japan in 2017 (the International Rafting Federation alternates between four- and six-person championships, with the six-person events coming on odd years), citing fitness as the main driver of their success.
“You have to be technically good, but you also have to be fit,” Seelig said.
With the team’s fitness now a foregone conclusion, they have gone back to studying technique a bit in recent years, enlisting in the help of world-renowned paddler Johnny Puakea.
“We went to the ocean instead of the river, and we spent all last summer learning with a bunch of Hawaiians,” Seelig said. “We wanted to learn from the best, to help our team, and as a result we’ve been paddling really, really well together. It helped tremendously to make us better paddlers.”
TAMING THE TULLY
The World Championships will take place on the Tully and the Cassowary Coast in Tropical North Queensland. It will be the first time Australia has hosted the International Rafting Federation World Rafting Championships.
Teams from 30 countries will soon arrive in the region in an attempt to Tame the Tully; the event will take place May 13-20.
Australian paddler Will Hilder, who is competing in the under-23 division at the championships, knows the Tully well. He said it’s one of the most challenging rivers on the planet.
“The rapids are really big,” he said. “There is rocks everywhere; it’s quite hard to pick your lines. We will be sure not to show any of the teams our home ground advantages.”
Cassowary Coast Regional Council Mayor John Kremastos said he was excited to welcome the athletes and teams from around Australia and the world to the region.
“We are keen to showcase what we have here and show them some true North Queensland hospitality,” he said.
For more information, visit http://www.wrc2019.com.
—This story contains material from an International Rafting Federation press release
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Jeff Shiffrin, with his wife, Eileen, made the Vail area their home decades ago, and together raised Mikaela and Taylor Shiffrin, who was a member of the two-time NCAA Champion University of Denver Ski Team.