Woman make a splash
BY REBECCA BARTON-DAVIS
The starting line is tense. I’m hypersensitive to the other racers on the line. The 2018 General Clinton Canoe Regatta is historic because, for the first time, the race is highlighting its female teams. The amateur and pro fields have been combined and six pro women’s teams have entered the field of nearly 90 duos. This may seem insignificant, but it is the largest pure women’s field I have ever competed in at a Triple Crown event in my 10 years of racing. There is a purse equaling the top men’s payout – another first. However, each race and event is beginning to change its stance. The time for women in paddle sports is coming fast.
The General Clinton made a big move this year, largely due to the work of female paddlers Phoebe Reese and Melissa Swislosky. They went door to door drumming up sponsors, ran online fundraising campaigns and sold t-shirts to get a large payout for the women, who would normally fall outside of the regular prize purse and would only have hopes of earning their entry fee back through class bonuses.
Women in marathon canoe racing have had the advantage of competing directly against the men. We don’t often race other women head to head, but we do earn the respect of our male counterparts. We race and train hard, and sometimes we even win, demanding the respect we deserve. Over the last four years, nearly every major race has at least one woman in the top 10 as part of a mixed team, and women’s teams are regularly placing in the top 25. Some of the legends of the sport – reigning Triple Crown champion Andy Triebold included – are choosing to race with female partners. The best see that women are some of the best paddlers out there. What we lack in strength, we make up for in skill and determination.
Katherine Broderson, 21, of Maple Grove, Minnesota, was inspired by this type of competition.
“As a woman, I wanted to work hard and prove that I could do it, too,” she said.
Katherine has completed the Yukon Canoe Quest as part of a family team and is quickly becoming a rising star. She loves how paddling pushes her to be better, and how she can see her hard work directly showcased with her improved performance. Katherine stresses to take each day as it comes, and be willing to learn each time that you get out on the water.
It’s not only marathon women who are seeing a renaissance. Some of the best SUP paddlers in the nation are women. The outrigger community notices larger participation in women’s team events than some of the same events for men. Women’s Sprint C1 has been added to the Olympics in 2020. Even in adventure paddling, women are doing amazing trips, and writing books about their experiences. Think wild, but on the water.
For all that is happening now, there is still a long way to go to complete equality. Media coverage is still minimal for the women’s and mixed teams. Certain international races still don’t see the athleticism of female competitors. Some amazing female athletes still deal with the mutters of “looking like a man” or “being selfish” for not having enough of a perceived family focus. However, this is changing, too.
AuSable River Canoe Marathon legend Lynne Witte – past mixed record holder, the best finish by a woman and 32-time pro-division finisher, was recently featured on espnW website as a woman to watch. Myself and Edith MacHattie were featured in Canoe & Kayak magazine in their 2018 AuSable Marathon coverage.
Lynne, along with many other women, have chipped away at barriers over the last 50 years. Lynn Capen and Carole Triebold were the first women’s team to complete the La Classique, facing a hostile crowd and malicious competition. Truda Gilbert and Donna Buckley did the same at the AuSable River Canoe Marathon. Roxanne Barton, Beth Schluter, Jenny Rudquist, Connie Cannon, Tanna Fries, Teresa Haught and Pam Boleter (to name a few) have all made the case for women in paddle sports in their fierce competition against each other and against the rest of the field. These women gave us a spot on the playing field.
Not only are women competing well, but they are also giving each other a hand up. Each year in at the Suwannee River Florida Training Camp, there is a women’s paddle, where all of the women pair up and switch partners throughout the day, working together to learn, as well as build camaraderie. This community and tradition of mentorship is paying off with many young women entering the sport.
Aly Doederlein, 16, from Grayling, Michigan, just completed her first full year of competitive racing. Last summer she was hooked by doing a few short races and then a mentor race with another woman at the end of the season. Inspired by current women marathon paddlers, Ally decided to start racing with her dad. She says that the relationship she has built with the other women in the community keeps drawing her back in.
“It all started out with me just following two female racers in the marathon and I ended up building a relationship with them over the past few years and it inspired me,” she said.
To my fellow women paddlers: speak up, race hard and be confident. Lift each other up. We are here to support you.