The St. Charles Canoe Club
The St. Charles Canoe Club
By Betsy Bellario
Editor’s Note: Betsy Bellario, a friend to me and my family, and oft-silent sports buddy on the ski trails, is a career prosecutor in Kane County, IL. A former competitive cyclist, she found the SCCC in 2001 when sidelined by a cycling injury. She’s grateful to the SCCC club for teaching her proper paddling technique for successful sea kayak racing. She looks forward to helping others start kayaking, or to improve their kayaking abilities.
Begun in 1972, the (Illinois) St. Charles Canoe Club (SCCC) boasts over 40 individual and family members, with the Fox River at its doorstep. Its beginnings as well as development came from many directions.
Longtime SCCC member Don Muggenborg started paddling in 1962 when he taught at Breman High School in Midlothian, Illinois. He and friend Dave Andersen played in a touch football league, then got into canoeing. According to Don, “Dave started it for me when he said ‘I hear there’s a race on the Des Plaines River next Sunday. Want to try it’?” Don, now in his eighties, has been canoe racing and actively involved with organizing the Des Plaines Canoe and Kayak Marathon ever since.
Steve Conlon, current SCCC Commodore, joined the SCCC in the 1970s when he was in his twenties after graduating from the College of DuPage where he was captain of the men’s gymnastics team and a national gymnastics champion. A classmate, Rick Diebold, sought a fourth man for his C-4 canoe sprint-racing team. Post college and gymnastics, Steve sought a new adventure. With daily practice, the team ultimately won the United States Canoe Association C-4 Championships. Now inspired, Steve began racing most weekends in many Midwest states. He still races C-1 and C-2, and does well.
In the ’70s, SCCC family members got involved in racing. This included club members, and siblings, Ann and Brent Turner, who were on the U.S. Olympic team for both kayaking and cross-country skiing.
Tave Lamperez, former long-time Commodore of SCCC, discovered the club in 1983, when he relocated to Illinois from New Iberia, Louisiana, to use his new computer science degree at Bell Labs (now Nokia). According to Tave, in the mid-to-late ’80s, many of the powerhouse paddling families of the ’70s were still racing. So Tave, who started canoe-racing as a Boy Scout in Louisiana, found himself training with racers who were some of the best in the Midwest, including Ed Hahn and Don Muggenborg, as well as Kurt Doberstein, who qualified for the 1980 U.S. Canoe Team, the year of the boycotted Moscow Olympics.
SCCC membership surged in the late ’80s with an influx of cross-country skiers who realized that paddle-racing provided excellent off-season training. Per Tave, during the ’70s, several club members were national champions in Olympic canoe and kayak sprint races (10,00K to 5,000K distances). By the ’80s, racing focus changed from sprint and long-distance paddling, to marathon distance racing. Club members traveled within Illinois and to locations in Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin, to compete in races held almost every weekend—sometimes both Saturday and Sunday. You could count on 20 to 40 boats racing any given weekend.
In the ’80s and ’90s, club members raced the local big races, including the Mid-American Canoe Race and the Des Plaines Canoe Marathon. But they also started to travel to the International Classic in Montreal, a three-day, 120-mile stage race; and the 70-mile General Clinton Canoe Regatta in New York State. SCCC members started getting involved in Dragon boat races, joining racers in other Midwestern states to create 20-person canoe teams that raced from Midwestern locations to Hong Kong, South Africa, and Thailand. SCCC members also trained paddlers, with some holding office in the Illinois Paddling Council and the United States Canoe Association.
SCCC Example Impact
Jim Pechous: Growing up, Jim canoed with his dad and the Boy Scouts through Eagle Scouts. Family vacations took him to Minnesota where he used the resort’s kayaks to tour the connecting lakes. At REI Demo Days on Lake Arlington, he found the Wilderness Systems Tsunami 165 was the fastest and most comfortable kayak for him. At the time, he only wanted comfort and speed while touring. In 2013, he bought the Tsunami. His goal was to build endurance, kayak at different destinations, and not get tired.
Knowing that paddling with a group could improve his kayaking skills, he searched the web and found the SCCC membership well-stocked with experience, catering to paddlers from fledgling to seasoned racers. The club paddled on Wednesdays, 5:30 p.m., launching at Ferson Creek Park in St. Charles, Illinois. After work, Jim drove to St. Charles, his 165 upon the roof rack, and found the membership welcoming. He paddled every Wednesday that late summer and fall.
In Spring of 2014, Karle Teske, long-time SCCC member and training director, gave Jim tips to improve his paddling stroke, and lent him different paddles to try. J.B. Hatler was just as willing to accommodate. Jim found greater speed in different boats and decided to challenge himself, racing almost every weekend in 2014. His improvement took him fast into 2015.
In 2015, Jim finished the 72-Mile South Dakota Kayak Challenge in the K-1 Adventure class in 12 hours, 9 minutes. In 2018, he took first place in 8 hours, 44 minutes. The Des Plaines Canoe Marathon, an 18.5-mile race down the Des Plaines River, starting in Libertyville, Illinois, has run for 62 years, attracting paddlers near and far; in 2017, Jim won the Des Plaines K-1 Men’s Sea Kayak division. Jim credits the SCCC for his confidence, ability, and endurance.
Last year, Jim teamed with Braxton Carter, a formidable paddler from South Dakota, to race the South Dakota Kayak Challenge in the K-2 division. They met for the first time the day before the race, paddled a few minutes, adjusted the boat to accommodate their heights—and won by breaking the course record, finishing in 7 hours, 14 minutes. A high-water year, therefore fast, Jim defers. Still, for someone who started paddling for fun and comfort, an amazing accomplishment. Now Jim embodies the spirit of the SCCC, and lends his expertise to others, whether beginner or advanced.
Janet Perry: Janet has been a strong racer, doing well in multiple disciplines: C-1, C-2, sea kayak, and downriver kayak, for many years. She is a strong advocate for getting more women and younger paddlers and families into paddle sports. And she has succeeded.
“The club has given me some of my very best friends,” she said. “My dear husband for 29 years now.”
Who happens to be Tave Lamperez.
“Such excruciatingly joyous experiences,” she added. “Anyone who can find a way to participate will certainly get at least 2 out of 3 of what I’ve experienced,” giving no odds on finding a spouse.
Joe Crnkovich: Other than a few kayak beers floats and outings with his wife, Kim, Joe Crnkovich had never been into paddling. With a collegiate football back injury he had to address, and tendonitis developing while weightlifting, Joe discovered he could do rows with a light weight. He then thought: Light weight plus lots of reps equals—kayaking.
Joe hauled his 10′ Old Towne Vapor to the DuPage River in June 2018. An hour later, he was hooked. He bought a Wilderness Systems Tsunami 175 and started training 3 days a week, recording his times, which he saw improving. Joe wondered: Other than at the Olympics, does anyone race kayaks? He found the Des Plaines Canoe Marathon website and realized his times were getting competitive.
Joe found the SCCC website and came out to paddle with the group. Although meeting for the first time, J.B. Hatler told Joe to leave his boat home next time, that he’d lend him a boat to train in. With the loaned EPIC 18X, Joe raced as often as possible, focusing on the 2019 Des Plaines Marathon.
He came in second, missing first by 26 seconds.
J.B. Hatler: J.B. was kayaking near Voyageur Landing, north of Elgin, Illinois, with his ten-year-old nephew in June 2008, when he observed canoes and kayaks lining up to race. He watched the event, talked to racers, and learned about the SCCC. When he was younger, J.B. boxed professionally, developing endurance, but leaving him with arthritis in his shoulders and unable to straighten his elbow.
J.B. credits Karl Teske, SCCC Trainer, with following him down the river, coaching him, and correcting his stroke; also, Rich Hodgkins, who lent him multiple boats to try.
Once J.B. began racing, his uncle, Fred Hatler, invited him to the Phatwater Challenge, a 42.5-mile race in Missouri down the Mississippi River. In 2015, he took 11th place in the Missouri 340—that’s 340 miles in 45 hours, 1 minute, with no sleep.
J.B. credits Richard Hodgkins with helping prepare for the race and working as support crew on pit stops to land along the way.
The SCCC Focus
Karl Teske says the SCCC helps people get out on the water and increase interest in paddling. Since its inception, the club has been made up of cruisers and racers, as well as people who liked to do both. People like J.B. Hatler, Jim Pechous, and Joe Crnkovich came into the club with heavy plastic boats, learned how to kayak more efficiently, and moved up to better boats, thereby enjoying the sport more, as well as racing.
Per Karl, early on the club made up almost a third of the USA Olympic Flatwater Team. The club has always been, and still is, made up of great people. Some members race, some don’t. All are benefited by introducing others to paddle sports, helping others improve their abilities, resulting in more enjoyment.
The SCCC website, www.stcharlescanoeclub.com, provides extensive links and articles on the club, paddling organizations, races, charitable efforts, and other events.
Cool Video: Jim Pechous on the Fox, Geneva, IL., awaiting the Big Boy.