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Hot finish to river race

Sprint at end one of many enjoyable moments this year

  • Participants of the Athol-Orange River Rat Race make a mad dash for the Main Street Bridge after the starting cannon on Saturday.<br/>Recorder/Micky Bedell

    Participants of the Athol-Orange River Rat Race make a mad dash for the Main Street Bridge after the starting cannon on Saturday.
    Recorder/Micky Bedell Purchase photo reprints »

  • Spectators lined the Main Street Bridge and banks of the Millers River in Athol on Saturday at the start of the Athol-Orange River Rat Race. Almost 250 canoes raced for the bridge opening at the sound of the starting cannon.<br/>Recorder/Micky Bedell<br/>Recorder/Micky Bedell

    Spectators lined the Main Street Bridge and banks of the Millers River in Athol on Saturday at the start of the Athol-Orange River Rat Race. Almost 250 canoes raced for the bridge opening at the sound of the starting cannon.
    Recorder/Micky Bedell
    Recorder/Micky Bedell Purchase photo reprints »

  • Participants of the Athol-Orange River Rat Race paddle for the finish on Saturday. This year's race had almost 250 participants, with Trevor Lefever and Ben Schlimmer of New York state taking first place in boat 104.<br/>Recorder/Micky Bedell

    Participants of the Athol-Orange River Rat Race paddle for the finish on Saturday. This year's race had almost 250 participants, with Trevor Lefever and Ben Schlimmer of New York state taking first place in boat 104.
    Recorder/Micky Bedell Purchase photo reprints »

  • Participants of the Athol-Orange River Rat Race make a mad dash for the Main Street Bridge after the starting cannon on Saturday.<br/>Recorder/Micky Bedell
  • Spectators lined the Main Street Bridge and banks of the Millers River in Athol on Saturday at the start of the Athol-Orange River Rat Race. Almost 250 canoes raced for the bridge opening at the sound of the starting cannon.<br/>Recorder/Micky Bedell<br/>Recorder/Micky Bedell
  • Participants of the Athol-Orange River Rat Race paddle for the finish on Saturday. This year's race had almost 250 participants, with Trevor Lefever and Ben Schlimmer of New York state taking first place in boat 104.<br/>Recorder/Micky Bedell

ATHOL — With the sound of a 1 p.m. cannon, more than 200 canoeing duos left the bank of the Millers River and furiously paddled their way under the South Main Street bridge.

Not all can survive the bottleneck under the bridge. The encouraging shouts of the hundreds of fans lining the street gave way to an even louder cheer — a signal that one canoe had submerged under water. Other boats smashed into each other and were turned around trying to find a clear path as they traveled down current.

Both paddlers and fans at the 51st annual River Rat Race on Saturday were treated to a sunny spring day with temperatures in the high 60s. Some onlookers commented that this year’s race had the best weather in recent memory.

A ways down the river in Orange, Dondi and Shirley Mitchell leaned against a railing off Water Street. The Mitchells, who live in Orange, come to the event every year with their children and foster children.

“Just seeing the town come together (for the race) ... it’s kind of nice,” said Shirley Mitchell.

Dondi Mitchell, who grew up in Orange, has competed in the race twice: in 2000 and 2001. During his first race, he remembers thinking that his then-pregnant wife could’ve given birth while he was paddling down the river.

In a grassy area near the water, Gardner Merritt, a Bernardston resident for more than three decades, watched and waited for the canoes to arrive.

“I canoe myself,” he said. “I like the peacefulness and the solitude.”

Things weren’t so peaceful around 1:35 p.m., when about six boats made a sprint for the finish line.

New York residents Trevor Lefever and Ben Schlimmer, padding together for the first time, edged out the others to take first place. They had drawn the 104th starting position — an improvement over last year’s 216th position — and said they caught up to the front of the pack about 15 minutes into the race.

It was Lefever’s second win. His winning partner in 2012 was Matt Rudnitsky, who this year finished second with Mike Schlimmer.

“It’s a raffle. Any one of these boats (near the front) could’ve won,” said Rudnitsky after the race.

The canoes continued to arrive more frequently at the finish line and workers in wet suits helped guide the paddlers out of the water onto Orange Riverfront Park.

Fans crowded onto a packed East River Street, moving out of the way when a canoe duo walked by carrying their boat. The street was lined with vendors, including the family members of the Orange Police Department, who were selling baked goods and giving away plastic fire hats and color-changing pencils.

At the Fire Department’s booth, Tracy Hamlett said she loves the annual event because it shows the “community coming together.” Nine-year-old Jayden Hamlett, who wants to be a firefighter someday, said his favorite part of the event was seeing his father, Chip Hamlett, ride down the river in a rescue boat.

Related

Photos of the 2014 River Rat Race

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Both paddlers and fans at the 51st annual River Rat Race on Saturday were treated to a sunny spring day with temperatures in the high 60s. Click on the thumbnails to view images of the race by photographers Micky Bedell and Paul Franz, or view a photo page as it appeared in print on April 14. … 0

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