THEDFORD — The race name was shortened, as was the actual length of the race, for the second year of the Middle Loup River Challenge on Saturday near Thedford.
“Last year the name was ‘Hills 2 Forest Middle Loup River Race’ and was 33 miles ending on the forest land, where a permit to get out was an added cost,” said Terri Licking, president of the Sandhills Journey Scenic Byway. This year’s race began at the same spot, 7.5 miles west of Thedford, at the base of the overpass. It ended after 28 miles on land owned by Tom and Twyla Witt about 8 miles east of Thedford.
Many repeat racers preferred this year’s getting-out point.
“The name change will also allow moving the race to anywhere on the Middle Loup River. The SJSB co-sponsors the race with Sandhill River Trips, Cay and Stephanie Ewoldt. Their business is booked out of Ewoldt’s Grocery in Thedford, which is owned by Cay’s dad and stepmother, Allen and Velma,” Licking said. They have provided the meal after the race both years. “Last year, we held the post-race meal a couple hours after everyone got off the river at the 4-H lodge, but this year, lunch was served immediately to the racers after they left the river, which they so appreciated.”
Last year the organizers expected 20 racers but 40 put in. The cost was the same for the die-hard racers or those who wanted to enjoy the river at a more leisurely pace. Due to COVID-19, they did not know how many to really expect this year, but they went ahead and held it, as social distancing is not really a problem in a kayak and the whole event was outdoors except for the pre-registration which was held Friday night at the Sandhills Corral, Thedford. Many racers stated they usually enter other races, but all were canceled except this one due to the virus.
Racers came from Omaha, Lincoln, Grand Island, Valentine, Ogallala and other places in Nebraska, and Kansas had several as well. There was only one canoe out of all the kayaks, and one woman, Sara Kay Carrell, of Scott City, Kansas, was the lone stand-up paddleboard participant.
“I stood up 90% of the time, (but) had to drop to my board to go under the bridges,” Carrell said. “I never fell off once — came close a couple of times, but was able to right myself. When a sandbar caught me, I just walked to the front of my SUP and it shifted the weight, so it floated off.”
Katherine Hamilton, a Thedford High School alumna, came for the first time with her husband, newly married as of Memorial Day weekend. The couple lives in Omaha. She came off the river with the couple’s own kayak; her husband had to rent his.
Panting and trying to catch her breath, she said, “It was grueling, but it was fun.”
Her time in the women’s kayak division netted her 2nd but a round of applause was her only prize. Her husband, Bill Mischnick, had a little more trouble, hitting a bridge piling with his face.
“Bill will get a kayak of his own, and we’ll be back next year,” Hamilton said.
The overall winner was the lone canoeist and last year’s winner, Calvin Hassell from Grand Island, who did the race in 3 hour, 39 minutes and 3 seconds. His wife and daughter plus the family dog, Koda, shuttled their vehicle from the starting point to the finish line.
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