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Tuesday, Jun. 25, 2019
Marathon Canoe Championships a nice fit for all concerned
by Randy Pascal

Yet another small wave of Canadians has been introduced to the local jewels that are Ramsey Lake and the Northern Water Sports Centre (NWSC).

Over the weekend, the NWSC played host to the Canadian Marathon Canoe Championships for a second straight year, more than doubling the number of competitors as some 85 paddlers converged on the city this year.

"We got off to a really late start for nationals in 2017," noted the past-president of the Ontario Marathon Canoe Kayak Racing Association (OMCKRA) Don Stoneman, from Cambridge, who co-chaired the local event along with Sudbury Canoe Club commodore Rob Marcolini and vice-commodore Aaron Hutchings.

"We weren't able to get the publicity out that we wanted. We decided, last fall, that we were going to run them in Sudbury again this summer, and have been working on this for months." The end result was a field that included a large contingent from across Ontario, along with pockets of paddlers from Québec, Manitoba, Nova Scotia and British Columbia, along with a trio from Bélize (formerly British Honduras in Central America). "We were able to ramp it up this year," Stoneman added.

One other advantage to the early preparation work was the opportunity that it provided to approach various levels of government. Most notably, the event received a generous "hosting" grant through the province of Ontario, funding that has allowed for a lasting legacy locally, one that features three new marathon racing canoes, six bent-shaft paddles, as well as training and certification offered for three new Sudbury coaches in the sport of sit-down marathon canoeing.

Of course, much of the above really won't mean all that much if the competitors, themselves, do not find benefit with the northern Ontario setting. "Sudbury is really a different place," said Stoneman. "We don't usually do a lot of racing on lakes, so this is really different."

"You'll have a tail-wind, you'll have a side-wind, you'll have a head-wind, all on one course that takes about an hour. I understand the two portages are quite challenging. It's a great venue - the paddlers really liked the event. Even the poor people who had to portage liked the course."

That, of course, is exactly the kind of feedback that Marcolini and countless others involved with the NWSC are grateful to hear. "This event is a good fit, in that it's probably not something that is as formal as the Henley (Royal Canadian Henley Regatta), or even some of the sprint races that the kids go to," said Marcolini.

"This appeals to people that are in good shape, but that are a bit more adventurous. The Ramsey Lake venue really fits that mold. For better or for worse, it's built up all the way around, so it's easily accessible from many points, and there are many good vantage points to watch the races."

Marcolini also took time to praise the lake users, noting not only the respectful nature in which they interacted with the paddlers - some water-skiers were more than happy to accomodate a move to another location in the lake, in order to not interfere with the racers - but also even something as simple as not disturbing the buoys and markers that dotted all corners of Ramsey on the weekend.

"And the support that we received from all levels of government and partners, like OMCKRA, that really resonated with me," he said. "We leaned on them more this year."

That said, it's likely time for the locals to take a bit of a breather. "I don't think we will do it next summer, but we've learned a lot, even for our own Canoe Marathon (Sudbury Fitness Challenge event)," stated Marcolini.

A good numbers of the participants will now make their way to "La Belle Province", as La Classique internationale de canots de la Mauricie welcomes folks to a waterways trek that will run from La Tuque (PQ) to Trois-Rivières, covering a distance of some 200 kilometers, from August 31st to September 3rd.

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