(Austin Schwinn, Stanton Collins, Aaron Mullican, Logan Mynar, Dylan Puckett and Jesse Lishchuk paddle in Houston. Credit: David Bean)
On Saturday, May 18th, Sugar Land, Texas made its debut as the host venue for the 2013 USA Canoe/Kayak Marathon Team Trials. The Houston Canoe & Kayak Club (HCKC), in partnership with Fort Bend Green, rolled out the red carpet for the best marathon paddlers in the country, including complimentary shuttles for athletes who flew to the race. Olympic-style name decals were provided for the athletes by Hyatt Place Sugar Land, the host hotel for the event. Whole Foods Market, also located on the lake, donated goodie bags for the athletes. The Texas Chiropractic College set their tent at the finish line to provide free massage and chiropractic care for the athletes following the race.
The conditions on the day were challenging. The heat and humidity arrived very late this season, only one day prior to the race. An aid station was positioned at the portage with volunteers serving water and electrolyte drinks in bottles donated by the Hilton Garden Inn.
High winds added another hurdle for the paddlers to clear. The horse-shoe course on Brooks Lake resulted in the winds hitting the racers from all directions twice on each lap.
The race began at The Fountains with a hand-held start from an 80-foot floating dock. In the Senior Men's race, Borys Markin led from start to finish. Markin, a former K4 bronze medalist in the 200-meter Sprint World Championships, represented the Rockaway Olympic Center (NY). By virtue of winning his division and beating the mandatory time standard, Markin punched his ticket to the ICF Marathon World Championships, to be held in Denmark in September.
There was a three-way race for 2nd place between HCKC standouts Tommy Yonley and Brad Pennington, and John Depalma (Lanier Canoe & Kayak Club), the two-time defending marathon trials champion. All three re-entered the water side by side following the 4th portage. Unfortunately for Pennington (who also served as Race Chairman for this year's event), his carbon fiber rudder had snapped at the stem just before entering the water, thus ending his race. DePalma and Yonley continued together for the remainder of the race until a sprint finish into a strong headwind, with Yonley edging out DePalma for 2nd place by 12 seconds.
The Under-23 race witnessed a talented field including three-time defending U-23 champ Austin Schwinn from Oklahoma City, LCKC standouts Aaron Mullican and Stanton Collins, and Texas ace Logan Mynar making his first appearance at the Marathon Trials. Schwinn and Mullican shared the lead for the first two laps, both ahead of the time standard to qualify for Worlds. The heat and humidity took its toll on the leaders however. As they slowed, Mynar passed Mullican on the 3rd lap, and he passed Schwinn on the 4th lap. Mynar held on to win his division, and served notice that he is someone to watch as the 2014 World Championships come to the USA.
The back and forth continued through the rest of U-23 field. By the fifth lap, Collins had moved into 2nd place where he remained to take the silver medal. Mullican, who had stopped at the portage aid station midway through the race (reportedly due to the extreme heat), fought his way back on the sixth and final lap to take 3rd place by passing Schwinn, who was having problems with his shoulder.
Jesse Lishchuk from Pennsylvania's Keystone Kayak Club and Dylan Puckett from OKC's High Performance Center made for a fast-paced Juniors race. Lishchuk executed a flawless race, including superb portaging skills, to win the 5-lap race by exactly 5 minutes over Puckett. Lishchuk also beat the time standard, and will represent the USA at Worlds in Denmark.
With Kaitlyn McElroy and Maggie Hogan granted exemptions to make the national marathon team, Alex McClain (LCKC) was racing against the clock to make the Senior Women's team. She did so in commanding fashion, and like Lishchuk, impressed with her fast portages even late in very hot conditions.
Ian Ross, also of LCKC, won the Senior Men's ICF C1 race, and also beat the clock to qualify for Worlds. As HCKC does not have any C1 paddlers, so all of the Houston paddlers were relieved to see Ross, who also happened to be the tallest competitor in the field, effortlessly clear both of the low water bridges on Brooks Lake.
Last but not least were the Masters races, which were present for the first time in some years at the Marathon Trials. Morris Paillet (HCKC) overcame a capsize at the start, largely with blistering portages, to come from behind to win the Masters 35-50 age group. Murray Hunkin (HCKC) and Steve Ulrich (HCKC) took 2nd & 3rd, respectively. Rusty Herbert (member of both HCKC & LCKC) won the Masters 50+ division. In the Women's Masters race, Karen Herbert won gold with Nancy Bowers taking silver.
Please see the race website at www.houstoncanoekayak.org for complete results. The event also was professionally filmed and photographed, so stay tuned for the visuals once they are edited and posted.
The following athletes met the time standards necessary to qualify for the World Championships:
Borys Markin 12.48 kph (senior K1 men standard = 12.1 kph)
Jesse Lishchuk 12.07 kph (junior K1 men standard = 11.9 kph)
Ian Ross 10.36 kph (U-23 C1 men standard = 10.2 kph)
Alex McLain 11.28 kph (senior K1 women standard = 10.8 kph)