New headquarters for River Rat Race

  • A ribbon-cutting was held for the new headquarters for the annual River Rat Race, locate at Else Wear, 1485 Main St., Athol.From left are: Lion Club members Kathy Chiasson and David Flint, Else Wear owner Debbie Allain-Thomas, Athol Savings Bank Financial Services Center Officer Lori Phillips, ASB Branch Operations Supervisor Ashton Cravatta, Starr Cummings of Girardi Distributors, and Lions Club member Joannie Rich. In back are Paddles the River Rat, and ASB teller Joshua Jansson. ATHOL DAILY NEWS/GREG VINE

For Athol Daily News
Published: 2/10/2020 10:07:10 PM

ATHOL – A ribbon was cut Friday afternoon, celebrating the opening of the new headquarters for the annual River Rat Race.

This year, Else Wear, at 1485 Main St., will serve as the spot where participants can register for the April 11 race, as well as view the trophies that will be handed out to this year’s winners. Registration deadline is April 9. The event is organized by the Athol Lions Club, in conjunction with the Orange Lions Club, and its main sponsors are Athol Savings Bank and Girardi Distributors.

In addition to registering at Else Wear, competitors may also register online at Cost is $42 per canoe.

Event organizer and Athol Lions Club past president David Flint said this year marks the 57th running of the race, which attracts canoeists from throughout New England and the country.

“The first one,” said Flint, “was March 21, 1964. There were 12 canoes. That year Art Forand and Sonny Soucie won the race in an old canvas canoe, which is now in the Orange Historical Society. Every year we give out an award in their honor, called the Art Foran/Sunny Soucie award, and it goes to the team that passes the most canoes. Next to winning, that’s the most prestigious award there is.

“The second annual race, in 1965, Art Foran and Sonny Soucie had just gone under the railroad trestle on South Athol Road. It was extremely windy that day. Art turned his head and lost his false teeth in the river. After the race over, most of the guys went up there and tried to find Art’s teeth.”

Flint said 2020 marks 29 years since the competition was taken over from the River Rat Committee by the Lions Club. He said the committee formed by the Lions to oversee the annual event meets about once a month.

Flint said the number of participants has dropped in recent years, even though organizer expect well over 200 teams this year.

“There are a couple of reasons for that,” he said. “A lot of the younger people — you see it with everything — all they want to do is sit home and play with their damn computer. But the other thing is; there’s a group from upstate New York that are professional canoers. And they come in every year and the question always is ‘who’s going to come in second?’ We already know who’s going to win the race. No matter where they start, they’re going to win the race.

“This year, we’ve changed things around. It used to be you got a thousand dollars to win the race, five hundred for second, and all the way back to the 40th position. Now, what we’re going to do is just pay back 30 positions. And we’re also going to give prizes to the first three recreational canoes, so it’s not just the pros who will be taking home first-place money. People from the nine-town Quabbin region will win that prize money. Now the locals have something to shoot for.”

The race stretches 5.2 miles from the Alan E. Rich Environmental Park in Athol to Riverfront Park in Orange and gets under way at 1 p.m. Other events the day of the race include the Rat Race Pancake Breakfast at Athol Congregational Church, which raises funds for the Relay for Life. The Big Cheese 5K Road Race, which raises funds for the Athol-Orange Food-a-Thon and Franklin County Meals on Wheels steps off from School Street at 9:30 a.m. According to Flint, the Boy Scouts will hold a spaghetti supper at the Congregational Church the evening before the race.

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