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HIGH ACHIEVERS: Pandemic cancels Upper Jock River Paddling Race for second consecutive year

HIGH ACHIEVERS: Stay-Safe Edition
Keeping Local Sport Spirit High During the Pandemic

By Martin Cleary

The little race that could tried and tried to get its faithful paddlers to the start line, but for the second straight spring the Upper Jock River Paddling Race was cancelled April 1.

Despite several contingency plans, the organizers of the goodbye-to-winter, hello-to-spring race for solo kayakers and canoe tandems had no defence against the powerful COVID-19 pandemic, which kept paddlers out of the water in 2020.

The race that had been scheduled for April 17 was expected to be a milestone for the Jock race in two ways. The race from Munster Road to Richmond would have been celebrating its 50th anniversary and the 125 entries was a pre-registration record.

Upper Jock River Paddling Race. Photo: @jockriverrace

On March 14, organizers posted a social media message that if Ottawa was placed in a green or yellow zone, or even orange, the race could be staged in an alternate form, following strict health and safety protocol measures.

But if Ottawa was put into the red, black or grey zone, the race would be scrapped because outdoor gatherings would be limited to 10 people (with physical distancing). Ottawa is currently in grey.

If Ottawa was in the orange zone, paddlers could challenge the course over a period of several days and submit their results online. The Jock race had a record pre-registration of 125 entries for the mass-start competition.

If held under a green or yellow code, there would be several different start times, no day-of registration, boat number pickups would be at several self-serve stations, and no post-race gatherings or medal presentations.

“Unfortunately, the Jock River Race must be cancelled for 2021. Thanks to the 125 teams who pre-registered (125, a pre-registration record); refunds will be issued over the next few days,” organizers posted on Facebook.

In the past, the Jock River race has faced weather issues presented by Mother Nature, but forged ahead with postponements. The races in 2017 through 2019 had their challenges, but there was always a race.

In mid-April, 2019, there was still ice on the river, prompting a new race date of April 27. When the weather forecast for that date was significant rain, cooler temperatures and strong winds, it was postponed to May 4.

But come May 4, the 12.6-kilometre race had a record number of finishers, despite low-water levels and slightly slower times. Robert Ross posted the fastest time of one hour, 42 seconds in his competitive solo kayak.

There was only one race date postponement in 2018 because of frozen sections of the river. But on its revised April 21 race day, a record 135 boats started and had fast conditions as five teams dipped under one hour.

In 2017, the race experienced one postponement before being held on April 14, when the water levels and weather were good. The canoe tandem of Ryan Stepka and Pierre Lavictoire placed first in 57:43, with Ross second at 59:55.

Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 49 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.

When the pandemic struck, Martin created the “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at

Martin can be reached by e-mail at and on Twitter @martincleary.

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