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October 21, 2008

By Jessie Stone

This past weekend Emily and I trained and competed in the Able/Disable Kayak marathon around Manhattan Island in NYC. We were the able partners in two of 5 able/disable teams that turned out for the race. Emily has always been a very game participant in any number of adventures over the years and this weekend was no exception. We were working with athletes from the Achilles Track Club with varying disabilities. One of the participants, Mike, is an Iraq War veteran who had learned to whitewater kayak earlier this year. Emily’s partner George is a paraplegic who was injured at work a number of years ago. My partner, Dick Traum, is the founder of the Achilles Track Club who lost his leg in a car accident. The race itself is 28 miles and depending on wind, tides and swells can take up to 8 hours to complete.

Luckily everyone who came for training and to compete had paddling experience so that made our job much easier, and everyone did very well in practice on Saturday. The future was looking very bright for the Able/Disable debut in the Mayor’s Cup on Sunday. The Mayor’s Cup is a watercraft race around Manhattan where people paddle anything from touring boats to surf skis to outrigger canoes. It is a well-run event with great prize money and food, and lots of people show up to race from around the world.

This year, the day started out great – cold crisp fall weather, lots of energy and excitement in the air, and lots of paddlers. The Able/Disable class started first and we launched into lots of wind and waves – not unlike years past. Although the current was going with us up the Hudson, the head wind and 3-foot swell made progress slow going. As we paddled up to the George Washington Bridge, a police boat pulled up along side us and announced that the race had been cancelled and that we had to turn back. What a big surprise! I have never been in an event that has been cancelled after it started.

This was a bit of a let down after nearly three hours of paddling. None of us this far up the Hudson had heard anything about what had been happening downstream at the start and out in the middle of the river where people were capsizing in large numbers. Some paddlers even got swept under the floating undercuts known as barges around the harbor and had to be rescued. The chaos those events caused made the race organizers decide to cancel the race. Although the racers were disappointed, everyone seems to be very psyched to come back next year, try again, and be even better prepared.

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