218 canoes entered in 56th Annual River Rat Race 1 p.m. today

  • Paddlers hoping to draw a favorable number jam the Athol Town Hall Friday night as they await the start of the post positions drawing for the 56th Annual River Rat Race.

Staff Writer
Published: 4/13/2019 12:00:08 AM

ATHOL — The “Super Bowl” of canoeing commences Saturday in the 56th Annual Athol to Orange River Rat Race with 218 competitors taking to the Millers River fighting for paddling glory.

When the cannon fires the chaos will begin at 1 p.m. David Flint is the Chairman of the River Rat Race.

“Ask anybody that’s into canoeing,” Flint said. “They know about this race. They consider it the Super Bowl of canoe racing. It’s crazy. It’s mayhem. That’s what makes it unique.”

Thousands of spectators are expected for the race with 70-degree weather forecasted for the North Quabbin region.

There is one major change to this year’s race, a separate class for North Quabbin participants only.

“We have first, second and third for the first local teams,” Flint said. “They have to live in the nine-town Quabbin region.”

Ben Schlimmer and Trevor Lefever have won the race four out of the last five years with three straight. The winner of the River Rat Race is awarded $1,000.

The new class, along with the ability to sign up for the race online, is an effort to increase the number of canoes in the water for this year and future races.

“Our numbers are down,” Flint said. “At one point we had 350 or 360 canoes. A lot of that is the local guys don’t have a chance to win. If they are on the fence or the weather is bad they say they won’t do it. We are throwing something in there for the local guys to shoot for.”

The top local finisher in the North Quabbin region will get $100, second place will get $50 and third will take home $25.

The top 40 overall finishers receive a cash prize.

The weather should bring plenty of families, racing fans and partiers on Saturday to line the Millers River. Outside of the race, there are plenty of activities for spectators before the race begins at 1 p.m.

These events include a pancake breakfast from 7 to 10 a.m. on Saturday at the Athol Congregational Church, the 5K Big Cheese Road Race starts at 9:30, to be followed by the parade and an ongoing carnival.

The runners in the road-race essentially start the parade.

“The coolest start to any race you will ever have,” Matt Talbot said. “You have people lining each side of the street waiting for the parade and they cheer you on.”

As of Friday there are 236 registered in the 5k, but Talbot, of the Athol Area YMCA, expects almost double that amount with same day registrations.

“It’s standard for running these days,” Talbot said. “It’s the weather. People don’t want to run in the rain so they want to make sure it’s safe.”

The race averages close to 500 runners per year and the 10th running should approach that number. Runners from all over New England have registered as of Friday.

“We get a lot of local people,” Talbot said. “Families running or walking together. But we get people from Maine or New Jersey. We have a man from Connecticut who is 96 years old.”

Winners get trophies and a block of cheese from sponsor Smith Country Cheese.

The accompanying carnival runs all weekend, and the Sunday pro-am races get underway at 10 a.m. at Orange River Front Park.


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