HIGH ACHIEVERS: Stay-Safe Edition
Keeping Local Sport Spirit High During the Pandemic
By Martin Cleary
Warren Hastings has been a competitive kayak racer for more than 30 years and has seen many of the waterways of Ontario.
Well, the Toronto financial expert can finally put a check mark beside the Jock River as he competed in the 49th running of the canoe race that bears that Rideau River tributary’s name on Easter Saturday.
The Jock Race Canoe Race was cancelled in 2020 and 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but returned in mighty fashion.
You can be sure Hastings put an extra-large check mark behind that race as it was the first time he had entered Ottawa’s unofficial start of the canoe season, his first time on the Jock River, his first time in a race with a large number of boats, the first time in his new wildwater boat and a rare long-distance race.
And it was rather fitting he was the first paddler among the record 175 boats that travelled the 12.5 kilometres from just south of Munster Road to the town of Richmond in either solo or tandem kayaks and canoes or SUPs. The former race entry record was set in 2018 with 135 boats.
“I have thought about this race for several years, but this year it fit into my schedule,” Hastings said in a phone interview. “I was going to be in Ottawa over the long weekend and it all clicked together.”
It all clicked together in many ways.
After a windy Good Friday, the Jock River race conditions were near perfect. The water was at an optimum level and was moving well.
Being a first-time racer in the Jock River Canoe Race presented a few interesting challenges for Hastings.
Hastings, who is in his mid-40s, is more familiar these days with shorter wildwater kayak racing. The wildwater races are considered sprints, about 10-20 minutes in length, compared to the Jock River race, which can take anywhere between just under an hour to just over two hours to reach the finish line.
He also knew nothing about the course, which has a sampling of whitewater sections, easy fast-water chutes and the Richmond Fen, an eerie forested wetland, which can be difficult to navigate.
Hastings was race ready for the Jock River challenge as he had placed first in a pair of recent wildwater races on the Credit River in Toronto and the Moira River in Belleville.
“I wasn’t sure what to expect,” said Hastings, whose family has been involved in various aspects of whitewater paddling since the 1980s, including his brother, John, a former Canadian team slalom canoe racer and two-time Pan Am Games medallist.
“There were 10 times as many paddlers in the Jock River race than the wildwater races in the province. It was a big crowd. I’ve never done that before. I had no practice run and wasn’t sure what it would be like. I knew it would be a long race.”
When Hastings enters his wildwater races, the paddlers leave one at a time in one-minute intervals. For the Jock River, he decided to leave with the first group of five.
“I’ve never been on the river so I figured I would sort my way out through the course,” he added. “Because I was in the first group, there was no one in front of me. It might have been a bit short-sighted not to do the course before. For the most part, I was on my own.”
But Hastings managed the course well, including the tricky Richmond Fen.
“There were a few instances where it was hard to figure out where I was going,” Hastings explained. “It was a little bit of learning on the fly. At one point, I zigged when I should have zagged, but it didn’t cost me too much time.”
By the time Hastings reached the finish line in 56 minutes, 52 seconds for a comfortable victory, he was exhausted.
“It was a long race. I was definitely tired and more tired than after the traditional wildwater races,” he said. “It was a long grind. In the summer, I’ll paddle flatwater for an hour to an hour and a half. This was a bit of a warmup for summer.”
Solo kayaker Jeff Brainard was second in the Jock River Canoe Race in 59:18, while kayaker Robert Ross took third place in 59:29.
The Zaveral Racing Equipment team of Bonnie Pankiw and Sarah Lessard was fourth in a women’s canoe tandem boat in 59:32. The Ottawa Valley Boys canoe tandem boat of Mike De Abreu and Seb Courville was fifth as the only other entry under an hour in 59:58.
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 48 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 OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @martincleary.
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