SARANAC LAKE - One of the emerging trends with the Adirondack Canoe Classic in recent years has been the participation of colleges.
This year at least four colleges had students participating in the 90-mile race that took place this past weekend. Drexel University of Philadephia had one boat, Hamilton College of Clinton had four, Paul Smith's College had about 10, and SUNY Potsdam students volunteered to work the 250-boat race that started Friday in Old Forge and finished Sunday in Saranac Lake.
Hamilton College actually formed a marathon canoe racing team last year specifically for the "90-Miler" and the Long Lake Long Boat Regatta, which takes place in late September.
Hamilton College students finish the Adirondack Canoe Classic race Sunday in Saranac Lake. The college had four boats in this year’s event.
(Enterprise photo — Mike Lynch)
"Last year we had eight people do the 90-Miler, (in) two C-4s (four-person canoes), and we decided it was a really fun thing and really wanted the whole school to be involved, so we applied to be a club sport on our campus," said Hamilton senior Christine Roback.
This year the college came back and had four four-person boats in the 90-Miler, including Roback's team that finished eighth in the C-4 Mixed Class. They also had a pit crew that helped student racers by preparing meals, transporting gear and other logistics.
Andrew Jillings, Hamilton College's director of outdoor leadership, raced on Roback's team this past weekend and is a past winner of the event as a kayaker. He said the 90-Miler, which is organized by the Lake-Clear based Adirondack Watershed Alliance, is a good experience for the students because they get to compete against the different age groups.
"I particularly like the fact that they are racing against grown-ups, if you like, which they don't get to do much ... and seeing that it's a lifelong sport," he said.
Roback also said paddling is an activity that just about anyone can pick up, so that's appealing for college students.
"If you want to go and play football, you need to have experience in high school," Roback said. "Anybody can get into a canoe, with a little bit of instruction, and do this, which is really nice for college kids."
While Hamilton College is just establishing its canoe racing team, Paul Smith's College has a long tradition of canoe racing. This year, the college had roughly 10 canoes with either students, alumni or staff paddling in the event.
Mike Cerasaro, a junior at Paul Smith's College who raced in the two-person recreation class, pointed to a sense of community as a reason he enjoys the event.
"We do have a fare contingent of alumni that participate with us, as well as a fair number of professors," he said. "It's really is one of the few teams where we have that cross-generational representation, which is really nice. Again, it's enlivening and engendering that sense of tradition but it's also giving us that extra motivation to push a little harder, go the extra mile and kind of live up to our expectations."
One of the tough parts for college students is having time to prepare for the race. Schools just opened a couple weeks ago, so teams have to put in an extra effort in the days leading up to the event.
"We paddle every morning," Roback said. "This is one of the proudest points of our team. We wake up at 6 a.m. and go to a lake that is about 20 minutes away and paddle for about an hour and then come back. So it's usually just steady paddling every day."
Roback said the team also does one longer paddle to get students used the intricacies of racing, including figuring out a drinking system while on the water and what food they want to bring with them.
Because of the short window of time between the opening of school and the race, SUNY Potsdam wasn't able to get a team together this year after fielding several boats last year. But Adam Wheeler, who raced this year and is a teacher in the university's wilderness education program, said there were about a half-dozen students who volunteered to work the race. He said they did everything from work in safety boats to sell T-shirts to collecting tickets in state campgrounds, where the state Department of Environmental Conservation provides free camping for participants. Wheeler said he encourages the students to be a part of the 90-Miler.
"I've been doing it for 17 years and I love it, and since I'm in the wilderness education program, I like to turn on students to the outdoors," Wheeler said. "This race is a great way to see the Adirondacks."