Schlimmer-Lefever win fourth straight River Rat Race

  • Winners of the Big Cheese 5k, Jack Bassett (left) and Tess Buechele (right) along with Associate Executive Director of the Athol Area YMCA, Matt Talbot, Saturday in Athol.   STAFF PHOTO/ADAM HARGRAVES

  • Overall winners of the 56th Annual Athol to Orange River Rat Race, Ben Schlimmer (left) and Trevor Lefever, Saturday in Orange.  STAFF PHOTO/ADAM HARGRAVES

  • Winners of the mixed division in the  56th Annual Athol to Orange River Rat Race, Ryan Zaveral (middle) and Rebecca Davis, Saturday in Orange.  STAFF PHOTO/ADAM HARGRAVES

  • Top female finishers (recreational) in the 56th Annual Athol to Orange River Rat Race, Diana Dugas and Valarie Hamlett, Saturday in Orange. STAFF PHOTO/ADAM HARGRAVES

  • Winner of the North Quabbin division in the 56th Annual Athol to Orange River Rat Race, Brent Lyesiuk. (Not pictured, paddling partner John Berry) STAFF PHOTO/ADAM HARGRAVES

  • First place overall winners, Ben Schlimmer (front) and Trevor Lefever, dig deep as they cross under the finish line in Saturday's River Rat Race. —Mike Phillips

  • Trevor Lefever, front, and Ben Schlimmer cross the finish line for their fourth straight win during the 56th annual River Rat Race on Saturday in Orange. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Trevor Lefever, front, celebrates after crossing the finish line with Ben Schlimmer for their fourth straight win during the 56th annual River Rat Race on Saturday in Orange. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Competitors paddle their way through the chaotic start during the 56th annual River Rat Race on Saturday in Athol. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Pam Fitzgerald and Vicki Cummings, front, paddle at the start during the 56th annual River Rat Race on Saturday in Athol. Trevor Lefever and Ben Schlimmer fight their way to a first place finish in the 26 boat. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Riley Drew steers his way through the fray at the start of the 56th annual River Rat Race on Saturday in Athol. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Competitors paddle their way through the chaotic start during the 56th annual River Rat Race on Saturday in Athol. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Spectators watch from the Main Street bridge at the start of the 56th annual River Rat Race on Saturday in Athol. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Leah Baxter paddles through the group at the start of the 56th annual River Rat Race on Saturday in Athol. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Spectators line the banks of the Millers River as Kevin Boss and Andy Hallat kick off with the number 1 boat at the start of the 56th annual River Rat Race on Saturday in Athol. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Competitors paddle their way through the chaotic start during the 56th annual River Rat Race on Saturday in Athol. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Competitors paddle under the Main Street bridge at the start of the 56th annual River Rat Race on Saturday in Athol. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Competitors kick off the start of the 56th annual River Rat Race on Saturday in Athol. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Competitors cross the finish line during the 56th annual River Rat Race on Saturday in Orange. In the front boat are Lloyd Sanderson and Dave Vondage, the middle boat with Tom Payne and Sandy Superchi, and the back boat with Seth Miller and Stephen Miller. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Competitors carry out their canoes after finishing the 56th annual River Rat Race on Saturday in Orange. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Katie Lin, front, and Mary Hamilton cross the finish line in the top position for pro women in 29th place during the 56th annual River Rat Race on Saturday in Orange. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Katie Lin, front left, and Mary Hamilton celebrate after crossing the finish line in the top position for pro women in 29th place during the 56th annual River Rat Race on Saturday in Orange. Staff Photo/Dan Little

Staff Writer
Published: 4/15/2019 11:57:00 AM

ATHOL — The 56th Annual River Rat started with a false start and confusion but had the usual finish. 

A rogue air horn started the pack early before the real start from the canon. This created a wave of movement from the first pack of boats.  

After some hesitation, the cannon went off and the chaos ensued with feverish paddling, boats seemingly clinging to one another and the occasional sideways boat. A few canoes capsized before passing under the Main Street bridge.

After the congestion cleared Ben Schlimmer and Trevor Lefever separated and won their fourth straight, collecting the prize of $1,000. The pair swept under the finish line at 34:18.

“What’s the name of the race,” Lefever said. “It’s the Rat Race, it’s going to be crazy. We got around them and got out in front.”

To put the winner’s pace in perspective, the lead emergency boat needed to speed up to 18-mph to move further ahead of the of Schlimmer and Lefever who were gaining in the water of Millers River.

“It’s training man,” Lefever said. “A lot of offseason training for this race especially. It’s years of training. You don’t just do this overnight.”

Both Sclimmer and Lefever are competitive racers and the Rat Race is the first race of the season. 

“The idea is to just to get out of the pack clean,” Schlimmer said. “Don’t get caught up and flipped over. Once you’re flipped over you’ll never get to the finish line.”

Schlimmer compared the size and scope of the Rat Race to the General Clinton Canoe Regatta in Bainbridge N.Y., which is the world's longest single day flat water canoe race, according to the race’s website.

“The number of boats in this race is as big as the General Clinton,” Schlimmer said. “The excitement and the adrenaline you get from it … you can’t get anywhere else.”

At the finish line there were the usual stories of broken paddles and some vessels taking on water. 

Brent Lyesiuk and John Barry took first place in the North Quabbin division and seventh overall. 

The women’s pro winners were Mary Hamilton and Katie Lin in 29th place, who started in post position 107.

“We were sitting back there waiting and the bullhorn goes off,” Lyesiuk said. “We knew it wasn’t the cannon but we knew we had to get going. People were going to have to go back and restart the whole race and then boom, the cannon went off. Mentally it messed me up the whole race. It didn’t feel right.”

The top mixed pro division winners were Rebecca Davis and Ryan Zaveral, who finished 5th overall.

Colin and Zack Fish (Athol High) placed 24th.

Mahar Regional’s Marie Nottleson paddled with her father Eliot Nottleson, as did Athol’s Chris Waslaske Jr. with his father Chris Waslaske.

“It’s something fun to do together,”  Waslaske said.  “It’s chaotic and a fun reality check to see how in shape we are.”

Costumed boats included the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Where’s Waldo and the Cat in the Hat.

One boat had two paddlers with rubber rat masks. 

North QuabbinDivision

Winners of the new division, restricted to racers residing in the nine-town area, were: 1st place, Brent Lyesiuk-John Berry, starting in post position 189; 2nd, Matt King-Kevin Olson, PP122; 3rd Dennis Carey-Dale Persons, PP10; 4th Dan Smith-Steve Drew, PP51.

Women’s Recreational Class

1st Dianna Dugas-Valarie Hamlett PP142; 2nd Julie Marcoulier-Jessie Marcoulier PP163; 3rd Priscilla Reinerstein-Chyenne Voudren PP78; 4th Ashley Willhite-Dee Willhite-Riley PP205.

Mixed Division (recreation class)

1st Theresa Wheeler-Travis Wheeler PP17; 2nd Ken Ostroski-Karen Pleasant PP130; 3rd Chad Stauback-Samantha Stauback PP174; 4th Neil Wheeler-Denae Dostal PP69.

Mixed Division (Pro)

1st Rebecca Davis-Ryan Zaveral PP146; 2nd Brianna Fitzgerald-Joe Schlimmer PP160; 3rd Phoebe Reese-Todd Lefever PP116; Emma Ellsworth-Jack Morse PP199.

Men’s Recreational Class

1st Jerry Madorie-Gus Madorie PP176; 2nd Colin Fish-Zach Fish PP138; 3rd Ryan Goodwin-Ken Goodwin PP62.

The James Canning Memorial Award Youth/Adult

1st Leah baxter-Dr. Chuck Baxter PP18; 2nd Chad Stauback-Samantha Stauback PP174.

Aluminum Class

1st Seth Miller-Stephen Miller PP74; 2nd Charley Brackett-Mark Williams PP37; Roland Jean-Roger Ballard PP24; 4th Peter Von Buren-Kevin VonBuren PP168.

Canvas Class

1st Bob Allen-Tim Allen PP19; 2nd Evan Jobst-Nate Underwood PP180. 

False start investigation

Rat Race Director Dave Flint said the false start of the race, which caused considerable chaos among the ranks, was “very unfortunate, and we are trying to get to the bottom of it.” After the National Anthem was sung, it was announced the race would begin with the traditional blast of the cannon in the next two minutes. There were 218 canoes in position on the right bank of the river, starting from the South Main Street bridge boat ramp. Before the cannon blasted off, somewhere in the upper numbers of the row of canoes someone blasted an airhorn, which some paddlers took as the signal to start the race, and pushed off. Some tried to maintain their position, while others were swept into the current along with those who started paddling.

“The first 100 or so canoes sat where they were supposed to be, waiting for the cannon,” said Flint, “when the back 100 canoes came down and around the bend and saw the lower numbers were just sitting there waiting, they tried to stop. Then the cannon went off. What do you do?”

He said they decided to let it go, although some paddlers were very vocal about disqualifying the higher numbered canoes who slipped down ahead of the others.

The judges decided to eliminate the Forand/Soucie Memorial trophy this year, annually awarded to the paddlers who pass the most canoes from their starting position. There was no way to accurately record this due to the column of canoes who paddled out of position because of the horn blast.

Flint said officials are almost certain they know who the culprits are “two young first timers” and will speak to them before making a determination of whether to ban them from future races. “I’ll see what they have to say,” he said.

Just another race

Athol Fire Chief Joseph Guarnera, who experienced his first River Rat Race Saturday, dispelled rumors heard at the finish line that a pair of paddlers plowed into one of the pylons at the Daniel Shays Highway trestle and were seriously injured. “We had a woman walking by who wasn’t feeling well and wanted to sit down,” he said, “We transported her to the hospital. Other than that, a couple teams tipped into the water, but there was nothing out of the ordinary. No one was injured.” He said the race was “Pretty fun. It was all people talked about when I first got here. I’m glad I got to experience it. it was nice to be out in the community.”

Big Cheese 5K

In the Big Cheese 5k, Jack Bassett (Cape Elizabeth, Maine) cruised to the top overall finish (17:34) with one of the best times in the history of the race. 

“Just getting by that big hill on mile one and a half,” Bassett said. “Once I was past that I knew it was all downhill from there. My dad grew up here so I always come back and do this race.”

Bassett’s father, Joel Bassett, went to Athol High School before enlisting in the Army. 

Tess Buechele of Rocky Hill, Connecticut took first overall (23:59) for females.

“My husband’s family has had land here for a while,” Buechele said. “They come here and run the race every year. My husband and his mom do the Rat Race too so we come here every year. It’s a family tradition.”

Top local finishers in the race for females – Athol’s Marguerite Lacroix (25:15). 

Athol High School’s Grace Dufour placed fifth (25:55). Right behind her was Kassidy Swan (25:57) in sixth.

Ryan Lyesiuk from Orange was the top local finisher for males in second place (18:45).

Mahar Regional’s Riley Drew took fourth (19:32). Drew just edged Michael Zani of Orange (19:33).

Dennis St. Jean, of Athol High School, took sixth (19:41). 

For the parade that followed the road race, over a thousand people lined the streets of downtown Athol to cheer the various floats and attractions over the sounds of sirens blared by emergency vehicles.

Floats came in all sizes, volume levels and ages. 

The Pete’s Tire Barn float had an assortment of young dancers, while  Military History Expo showed off some military vehicles. River Rat Race organizers for the past 30 years, the Athol Lions Club, featured a float with a huge rubber ducky paddling  a canoe and club mascots (Paddles the River Rat), and Sir Roars A Lot the Lion handing out candy.

The Boiler Bar & Grille float came with live music, and parade marshal Mitchell Grosky happily waved to the crowd from the lead police cruiser.


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