By Mark Constance
REGION – ESPN in Grayling? The Sporting News in Oscoda? Covering canoers?
That type of coverage of the AuSable River Canoe Marathon is a little closer to reality, due to efforts to create a 501 (c) 3 organization, The Triple Crown of Canoe Racing (TC), and its efforts to promote the three premier endurance canoe races in North America.
The founders and initial board of directors of the organization includes former AuSable River Canoe Marathon Chairs Joe Wakeley, Steve Southard and Phil Weiler.
The TC was established in 1992 and recognizes the top performances by C-2 marathon canoe racers who compete at all three of the races.
Known simply as “The Marathon,” the AuSable River Canoe Marathon first ran in 1947. It is the longest, non-stop, canoe-only race in North America. The race has been billed as “The World’s Toughest Spectator Race” as many of the spectators follow the racers overnight down the full 120 miles to the finish.
The Marathon starts in Grayling in a LeMans-style start where teams run with their canoes to the Au Sable River entry point. They begin paddling non-stop throughout the night. In addition to paddling for 14–19 hours non-stop overnight, competitors must also portage around six hydroelectric dams along the course.
The other races that are part of the TC include:
- New York’s General Clinton Canoe Regatta. Held since 1963, the Regatta 70 miles without stopping on the Susquehanna River; and
- Quebec’s Classique internationale de canots de la Mauricie. Held since 1934, the course is run over 120 miles in three stages on the Ste. Maurice River (the area between Montreal and Quebec).
Wakely said the “Triple Crown”, which in the past has given participants in all three events a medal, has expanded the number of teams participating in each race. He noted that locally, the number of teams from outside of Michigan and the United States has increased since the inception of the TC.
“In many respects the TC (without the 501 (c) 3) has already affected the image and participation in the marathon,” Wakeley said. “If you look at teams from other states, the numbers from the pre-TC days jump dramatically.”
The TC has also improved communication between the marathons over the years.
“It’s created good camaraderie between two American and the Canadian races, and that’s critical to any promotional effort.
“If we can get a couple of large sponsors, it will get Grayling some super exposure, and enhance and make the event even bigger than it is,” he added.
As part of the TC, a paddler advisory committee has been established to work with the board on improving the race for the participants.
Committee members include Serge Corbin (Quebec), Jeff Kolka (Grayling), Bob Zaveral (Zaveral Racing Equipment of New York); and Martin Gervais of Quebec, (president of the ACRQ – (Rebaska).
TC Board Member Steve Southard emphasize the organization is not in competition with the AuSable River Canoe Marathon, but to enhance the efforts of the volunteers “who do an awesome job putting together the event each year.”
He said the TC will work with organizers of each region in an effort to attract major sponsorships. So in part, the racers will be able to compete for meaningful purses with money shared between the races. Each race will also see a portion of the proceeds from TC merchandise sales.
“We want to grow canoe racing through youth organizations and the schools, where kids can learn how to construct their own paddles and canoes,” Southard said.
“Critical to our efforts is the promotion, protection and enhancement of the resources and communities where the races occur.”
The TC has also asked renowned photographer Erich Schlegel to take photos of all three races. The photographic coverage by Schlegel, who has had photos published in USA Today, National Geographic, The Nature Conservancy, and many more, will ensure the race has the best still and video images available.
Wakeley said exposure will help people to understand what canoe endurance racing is all about.
“Many people, it seems, think of a canoe race as an event as something where people just throw aluminum canoes in the river and head out,” he said.
“But it’s so much more than that.”
For more information visit the Triple Crown of Canoe Racing on Facebook, or email contact@TripleCrownOfCanoeRacing.com.