46th River Rat Canoe Race Today
ATHOL -- On their way to victory in last year's River Rat Spectacular, Athol natives Jason Lichtenberger and Jason Gauthier claimed they "were ahead the whole time, except for underneath the bridge."
Good news then, gentlemen, you don't have to go underneath the bridge this year.
For the first time in the 46 year history of the River Rat Spectacular, the canoe race will begin on the opposite side of the bridge, ridding the race of the bridge spills and thrills.
With the start of the race being moved down to the Morton Meadows section of the Mighty Millers, one has to wonder how it will affect the race. When Pete Strong's cannon signals the 1 p.m. start for the 276 canoes, anyone and everyone might be in contention, regardless of post position.
A clean start from post position 21 helped Lichtenberger and Gauthier get out in front early last year. The post position may not be as significant this year without the annual mess at the bridge for racers to contend with. Last year's third place finishers Tom Ellsworth and John Kazimerczyk drew post 175 while fifth place finishers Brent Lyesiuk and John Berry drew post 260. Now, without the mess at the bridge, things could be different for those stationed at the back of the pack.
Only three duos have ever won the Spectacular in back-to-back years, Bob Rapant and Carl Normandin (1992-93), Bob Zaveral and Bob MacDowell (1988-89) and Bill Ellsworth and John Ellsworth (1965-68, 1971-72). Statistically speaking, the odds are against a Gauthier, Lichtenberger repeat but don't rule the local pair out.
Another contender for the overall title is the team of Dennis Carey and Dale Persons. After numerous close calls, the duo finally captured the elusive checkered flag in 2006.
Andy and Matt Rudnitsky finished second last year, a year after Matt placed third with Shane McDowell. Matt has another new partner this year, in his quest for River Rat glory. This could be his year as he signed on with 1999 champion Ryan Lyesiuk for this year's competition.
The clear favorites, however, have to be the Berry and Brent Lyesiuk tandem that claimed the Forand/Soucie Memorial Award last year for passing the most canoes. Berry and Brent have won the purse three times since 2002, including 2007. Brent was also victorious in 1991 with partner Paul Facteau.
In the women's division there appears to be one clear front runner in the competition, two-time defending women's champions Ellen Ellsworth and Christina Wilson. Aside from winning the last two years, Wilson also claimed the women's division in 2001 with then partner Jennifer Caldwell. The top competition for Ellsworth and Wilson includes last year's runner-up Pam Fitzgerald and Vicki Cummings. Laura Walton and Patty Spector placed third in the girl's division in 2008 and return together again this year.
After dominating the women's division, winning each year from 2002-06, Susan Morris jumped into the mixed division in 2007. It wasn't a problem for her, as she paddled to a mixed division title with partner Dana Henry.
Last year, however, the tandem failed to repeat as Ed Euvrard and Mary Hamilton took home the mixed division. Dave and Kris Dorsey placed second while Lisa Tambuiss and Jeff Defeo came in third. All three of those teams finished in the top 15 last year and return as contenders for this year's crown. Morris and Henry are paired up again and will look to regain their place atop the mixed division.
With the start of the race being moved, there are only two things certain for this year's 46th River Rat Spectacular, Pete Strong's cannon and the water being very, very cold.