The Rivanna River Race has been held every year since 2006 and until this year I’ve raced in every once, except the first year when I did not know about it.
In all previous years the race was organized by one man, Merrill Bishop, who did all the heavy lifting of planning, organizing and arranging volunteers.
For the past several years I have quietly contributed behind the scenes assisting with marketing, public relations, communications and building communities to support the race via the Rivanna River Paddlers Facebook group, www.CvillePaddlers.com, and @CvillePaddlers on Twitter. I was happy to help promote kayak racing in the local community and always took great joy in helping ensure the success of our local race and helping others develop an appreciation for paddling.
This year was different.
Merrill decided to step back after last year’s race and I agreed to be a co-organizer this year along with Paddling Buddy Dave.
The amount of planning for an event like this is not insignificant.
There was the development of a race webpage, creating a race flyer, numerous news releases, constant communication via the Facebook group, a radio interview, posting the event on calendars such as PaddleGuru.com, Nextdoor.com, and Blue Ridge Outdoors online, getting and organizing volunteers, etc.
Filing a County Park special event permit application at the last moment because I had no idea we needed to file one. Applying for ACA affiliate membership and event insurance, subsequent revision of the insurance to include co-insured, creation of an online pre-registration form.
A lot goes into an event like this.
Getting up early on race day to set up tables and chairs at the finish line, helping at the starting line to ensure things went as smoothly as possible for our paddlers and volunteers. Paddling the route the night before with Paddling Buddy Dave and removing obstacles to ensure a safe race.
The list goes on.
I had decided a while ago I was not going to race this year. It was a difficult decision but one I felt was the right one.
And to be honest, if we would have gotten a lot of rain with a high river on race day, I might have changed my mind.
But since I have been helping out with communications for years the local paddling community naturally associated the race with me, not the person truly to thank, Merrill Bishop.
I never intended to become the face of the race but I had.
So I decided I needed to take a year off from racing, get some perspective on the race, and avoid any appearance of conflict of interest or seem like the race is self-serving in any way.
As you know, I participate in many races and always write about my experiences and usually do a video of the events because I want to promote all kayak races and promote paddling in general. I do what I do because I love the sport and believe more people could benefit from a more healthy lifestyle and improve their mental state by participating in paddle sports. Race organizers usually love it when I show up at their events because I help give them a bigger footprint on social media.
But my local race?
Maybe I had lost perspective.
So I helped set up at the finish line early Saturday morning and then drove to the starting line to help there as best I could.
Racers started arriving and registration seemed to go rather smoothly. Somebody even brought copies of the regional Magazine, Unbound, which featured our local paddling community and race on the front cover.
I swear I did not bring any of these copies of the magazine.
Paddling friend and volunteer, Shelli, checking out Unbound Magazine at the starting line
So the racers got checked in and the safety briefing began at ~9:35am.
During the safety briefing Shelli and I headed out in our boats to sit at the first significant set of rapids and serve as safety patrol.
Everyone who knows me fully realizes I’m human and suffer from all the maladies, flaws and shortcomings associated with being human.
As I headed down to the river with my boat prior to launch I felt a bit of resentment that I was not going to participate as a racer this year. All the hard work. All the bumps, bruises, stress and skirmishes during the pre-race planning…and I wasn’t even going to enjoy racing myself?
I was not happy.
I did not have the joy in my heart that I had in all previous years.
But a funny thing soon happened.
As I kept paddling my attitude started changing.
We paddled down and got to our post and took up residence on some rocks and waited for the racers to start coming through the “railroad” rapid.
I brought my video camera and tripod and set up shop.
What then happened was amazing.
I got to see the smiles on every racer’s face as they came through that rapid.
I got to capture video and pictures of every participant in the race.
I felt their joy and I was able to share their adventure with them, if even just few a few moments as they paddled by. I was able to cheer on every person as they passed by. I saw young paddlers, old paddlers, serious paddlers and paddlers who were simply thrilled to be on the water.
After our safety boater, Scott Shaw, came through we knew the last participant had passed through our checkpoint so Shelli and I jumped back in our kayaks and escorted the “back of the packers” to the finish line.
I gained even more perspective.
I paddled ahead and then waited below rapids to make sure everyone got through alright. I got out of my boat a couple times to help people get unstuck from rocks and made sure everyone completed the race.
I thoroughly enjoyed the race and, quite possibly, it was my most enjoyable race because I got to see it through the eyes and perspective of others.
The volunteers. The racers. Merrill Bishop.
Two astounding events encapsulated the entire event.
One: An anonymous donor gave a $100 bill to be awarded to the racer with the fastest overall time.
Two: Said paddler taking the envelope with the cash, asked who the race benefits, and when he was told the proceeds were being given to The Rivanna Conservation Alliance, immediately handed the envelope back and said, “Give it to them.”
That is what it is all about.
I am hopeful that new volunteers step forward to take on organizing responsibilities in future years. I know I’m not cut out for it.
Now that I’ve been through a full cycle myself I’m happy to help transition the race organization to new volunteers and/or management and I remain 100% committed to ensuring the future success of this race.
But I do want to get back to racing in this race.
Merrill has left a race legacy that deserves the support of our community.
One way or another I will help that legacy endure.
It is a worthy endeavor.