Words and Photos by: Jessie Stone
October 19th in New York City is from here on out the Official Mayor's Cup
Day thanks to Mayor Bloomberg. This year the Able/Disable class was added and 5 teams entered. In the past, we had done the Able/Disable marathon as an independent race, but it was very exciting to be included with the other paddlers. Seeing all the different watercraft and people assembled before the start made you feel that you were part of a big happening in the kayaking world. Paddlers came from all over the globe to participate and compete for as much as $5,000.00 in prize money. Hearing the National Anthem sung while being gathered next to Ground Zero brought tears to many people's eyes and set the tone for an exciting day ahead.
The Able/Disable category consisted of 5 pairs of racers with a variety of disabilities including one Iraq war veteran who had had both of his legs reconstructed. Luckily, he is a whitewater kayaker and adapted to sea kayaking easily after one brief practice session. The other disabled competitors are members of the Achilles Track Club in New York. The able paddlers came from a variety of places, and the teams met and paddled together for the first time the day before the race. Emily Jackson came from Tennessee to race and was partnered with George a local New Yorker. George is a paraplegic who lost the use of both his legs after a work related accident. Emily and George proved to be a very strong team.
Race day started out with beautiful weather, crisp, sunny, and windy. The Able/Disable teams were the first to launch. Straight from the protected water of North Cove into a full head wind and 3 foot swell. Although the current was helping to carry everyone North, the wind and waves made for very hard work paddling towards the George Washington Bridge. Luckily for the Able/Disable racers, they had experienced this kind of weather before in previous events. So while it was slow going, all five teams of Able/Disable paddlers made progress up the Hudson without any mishaps.
The same could not be said for other kayakers and people paddling surf skis. While the Able/Disable teams reached the George Washington Bridge and some headed toward the Harlem River, further south chaos had ensued. As the surf ski division launched, an immediate pile up of boats leaving the start line caused a domino effect of boats to tip and dump their drivers into the Hudson. Some of the swimmers and their boats ended up being swept under a barge, similar to being swept under an undercut. Rescue forces were on hand to pluck people out of the water but that accident along with several other capsizes further upstream caused race organizers to cancel the race midway through.
It was strange to be psychologically psyched for a 28-mile race and to be told to turn around and come back. For all the paddlers who had made it without any adverse events, it was a bit of a let down to turn around, but it was still great to be out there. All the Able/Disable teams are looking forward to next year's race and are planning to have as many as 15 teams compete.