Paddlers Show Grit in Chilly Competition

| November 21, 2011

On a wet, wintry day when just getting into a canoe or kayak required a major gut check, three hardy Sweet Briar paddlers got on the water not once but twice in the Collegiate Race Series Virginia Championship sponsored by the American Canoe Association on Oct. 29. The race was held on the Rappahannock River near Fredericksburg and included the First Drop, a class III rapid.

Sydney Fuller ’15, Erin Dalvini ’12 and Amanda Zack ’13 each competed in the solo kayak class against the only other team that showed up, Hollins University. The Sweet Briar paddlers took two of the top three spots in the race. Fuller finished just one second behind Hollins’ Madeleine Regan, while Dalvini claimed third place.

“We were kind of excited that it became a race between two women’s colleges,” Sweet Briar Outdoors Program director Tasha Purcell said. “They challenge and inspire each other because they want to win for their colleges, but at the same time there’s a [kinship] there.”

With temperatures hovering below 40 degrees and rain continuing to fall, Fuller said it was hard to get back in the boats a second time. She’d managed to cleanly navigate a practice run that didn’t go so smoothly for the entire field, but her feet and hands had become painfully cold. She’d finally gotten them warmed by race time.

Despite that and pre-race jitters, Fuller and her teammates pressed on. “We wanted to win,” she said.

Once on the course Fuller said the wind and water were “crazy,” making it hard to spot the best lines through the rapids. Worse, she had an earworm. “I had this awful rap song in my head the whole time,” she said.

Earlier, a group of them were holding in an eddy during the practice run, waiting for a swamped canoe to get righted. They sang “Don’t Stop Believin’” for encouragement. “I think it would have gone better if that song had stayed in my head,” she said.

The practice run took its toll, reducing the number of boaters on both teams. In the end, Sweet Briar didn’t compete in the open canoe classes, but the teammates rallied around Fuller, Dalvini and Zack as they prepared for the timed kayak race.

“When we were going back out, they were there for us,” Fuller said, describing how they all held their hands together to warm them up. In the 11 to 12 minutes it took to run the course, the paddlers’ hands would hurt all over again.

“It was a tough effort to get back into the water,” Purcell said of her SWEBOP competitors.

Purcell attributed the kayak team’s perseverance to the time they’d put in practicing. In addition to weekday sessions in the pool, they paddled the Tye and James rivers, including Balcony Falls in nearby Snowden.

The class II and III rapids of Balcony Falls are trickier than anything they experienced on the Rappahannock on Saturday, Fuller said, but lest you think that gave them an advantage over their friendly rival, think again.

The Hollins team once left a “sorry we missed you” note on the windshield of the Sweet Briar van in the parking area.

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