All aboard to victory
Grad student’s canoeing team finished with their best time yet.
by CARLEE ROSEN
This article originally appeared in The Tiger on August 28, 2009 | PRINT

Clemson University graduate student Michael Smith started his canoeing race in Kansas City, Kan., and didn’t finish until he was in St. Charles, Mo., 65 hours and nine minutes later.

Along with his partner, Theodis Gatlin, Smith competed in the longest non-stop river race in the world, the 4th annual 340-mile Missouri 340 River Race.

With a motto of “This ain’t no Mama’s boy float trip,” this race pushes you to your limits.

The race began on Aug. 4, 2009, and participants have exactly 88 hours to complete the course, and are required to check in at nine different checkpoints.

If the rowers do not make it to the checkpoints on time, they could be disqualified.

Smith decided to do this race as some sort of a midlife crisis. “I just wanted to prove that I still had the adventurous side to me, and that I could still accomplish the crazy and outrageous.”

Smith and his partner rowed in the Men’s Tandem division, and took on the 340 miles in a 17 foot nine-inch canoe.

Battling off the heat, rain, bugs and waves, the two beat their original goal of 80 hours.

“We finished far better than we had anticipated,” Gatlin said.

The two are very proud of their time, especially since they did not do that much training prior to the race.

“Finishing in 65 hours nine minutes is really hard for a first time ‘recreational’ participant,” said Smith.

Ninety percent of their sleep during the race was accomplished right in the canoe.

They took two-hour rotations at night.

While one person would rest, the other would keep the boat away from things like parked barges, buoys, wing dykes and sand bars.

“Sleeping in the canoe enabled us to stay on the water and kept our boat moving toward the finish, even while we rested,” Smith said.

After about 50 hours into the trip and only six hours of sleep, Smith started to lose it.

“I really went over the edge mentally,” he said.

He began to hallucinate things like waterfalls, drop-offs and even a skull reaching out into the river to eat him.

Gatlin was stronger mentally and was able to help Smith through his struggle.

He kept yelling, “This boat is going to St. Charles, you can be in it if you want!” Smith said that Gatlin’s words and encouragement reminded him of how committed he was, and he knew that he was going to make it.

For food, the boys brought things like trail mix, summer sausage and cliff bars.

At one point in the trip, Smith’s wife was waiting at one of the stops with a Papa John’s pepperoni pizza.

Smith said it was the best tasting pizza he has ever had.

For Smith, there were many parts of the race that were rewarding.

The self-confidence of knowing that he had accomplished something so outrageous was a really good feeling for him.

“For a while I felt personally defeated due to my mental laps,” Smith said.

But Gatlin and his wife pointed out that he made it past that and was able to come back from that void to finish strong.

“I think learning my breaking point and learning that I can overcome it was probably the most rewarding part of the race,” Smith said.

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