Although rain poured from the sky Saturday along the Illinois River, canoers and kayakers held strong to their sense of fun, love of adventure, and challenge of competition during this year’s Kiwanis Canoe/Kayak Race for the Kids.
Denise Deason-Toyne, lieutenant governor designate of Kiwanis Texas/Oklahoma Division 31, said the Race for the Kids offers canoers and others a chance to help community children. But it also lets them compete for braggining rights and prizes, including iPads, TVs, cash and T-shirts.
Dwayne Thompson, team chairman for the event, said last year’s winners made the 6-mile trip in about 46 minutes.
“With the rain we’ve had recently, the river is up,” said Thompson. “I expect that time to be faster.”
Tahlequah Kiwanis President-elect Craig Clifford was pleased the river level was higher.
“We’re happy we got some water in the river,” said Clifford. “We were concerned about that this year.”
The canoe race requires a two-person team, and the kayaks are single entries. The entrance fee was $30 per person. Many of last year’s canoe competitors returned for this year’s race.
Deason-Toyne said money earned through Kiwanis’ efforts helps pay for the Department of Human Services Christmas program, the bicycle safety awareness programs, and certificates and parties for youth who improve their grades through the organization’s BUG project.
The Kiwanis paid for the playground equipment at Felts Park, according to Deason-Toyne. And they have a new project this year: Disaster Relief Backpacks.
“The Disaster Relief Backpack is a governor project,” Deason-Toyne said. “We pay for backpacks and fill them with emergency supplies needed if there’s a disaster. We fill up the packs with things like toothpaste, tooth brushes, bottled water, and for younger children, a teddy bear.”
Muskogee teammates Tom Hoopes and Brandon Curtis, who won first last year, said they were looking forward to the race and thanked the Kiwanis for having it.
“Last year, we didn’t practice and took first place,” said Hoopes. “But this year we were so excited, we took out a canoe Tuesday and did interval spurts for practice.”
The canoers strategy is to put the power in the front of the canoe and finesse in the back.
Another return team was that of Sean Valdez and Tye Ward, who placed second last year. They grew up canoeing the Illinois River.
“We compete in other events, and we work out,” Valdez said.
Ward is the navigator of the team.
“This year, we worked on our communication skills for navigation,” he said.
Along with return racers, there were first-year canoe competitors at Race for the Kids, including Tony Cornell and Mike Bingham.
“I heard about the race and talked to my partner about it,” Cornell said. “We decided to compete.”
Cornell said he and Bingham float the Illinois River and the Arkansas River.
To train for this race, they floated the river a couple of times the week before the competition.
“We’re representing the older men who work out and keep fit,” Cornell said. “We want to make them proud.”
This year, a kayak division was added to the competition.
“It will be interesting to see how fast [the kayaks] make it down river,” Thompson said.
Robin Stand kayaks a lot, and she prepared for the race the previous weekend.
“I’m shooting for a third- to sixth-place [finish],” Stand said. “I’m competing against me. I recently had knee surgery, and I cross train. This was a chance to compete, and an opportunity to help kids.”
The canoes and kayaks started at Round Hollow and paddled down river to Arrowhead Resort. Thompson said Arrowhead handled all the canoes, kayaks and equipment for the race.
Winners of the canoe race were: Tony Cornell and Mike Bingham, first place; Trae Ratliff and Bucky Davis, second; and Tom Hoopes and Brandon Curtis, third.
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