top of page

Ausable River Canoe Marathon Memories

Updated: Jul 30, 2019

One of our contributors Bill Mahaffy asked the facebook community this week to share their memories of the first Ausable River Canoe Marathon and we both agreed that these stories need to be recognized as this is one of the things that makes our sport so special. With this years Consumer Energy's Ausable River Canoe Marathon only a week away this is the perfect time to share these awesome Stories. Enjoy!

Bill Mahaffy

Bill Mahaffy:

For me...Born in Luzerne, lived in Mio and then grew up from the late 80's on in West Branch with my mother, but my father was a small business owner whom lived in Grayling. My first exposure to the race wasn't in person, outside of random paddlers wandering through the store, and of course all the hubbub about the race.

It's amazing how things work to form your favorites. 1990 the first Gulf War happens, ending early 1991. My Uncle ends up overseas in the sandbox. A song I had never heard of is played on repeat over and declaring "I'm proud to be an American". And 11 year old Bill is now a BT/Jeff Kolka fan because 'MERICA (duo, not that Brett Stockton guy winning with Serge Corbin...because to 10 year old Bill, that's a traitor which makes no sense. No hard feelings,) needs to win the canoe marathon. I'm not sure I saw a lick of actual canoe racing, but would wander into the parking lot to look at the rare race boat that stopped in the feed store. And evesdrop every conversation possible when I was in Grayling about the race. I'm pretty sure my father avoided downtown Grayling the weekend of the race.

1992 the cycle repeats but the American duo in second is Bruce and Turbo. It's also an Olympics year (Barcelona). And Bruce is a former Olympian. Forget the fact that 11 year old me doesn't know that this guy was in the Olympics before I was born. All I know is that SOMEONE SAID HE WAS IN THE OLYMPICS. And 'MERICA.

I wanted to move from West Branch to Grayling in the worst way.

1994 two kids from Grayling named Mo and Matt win the amateur division setting the record. These guys aren't but a couple years older than me. I've NEVER met them. But FIFTEEN. I'm 13. I can do this. Canoeing is something I enjoy but rarely get to do. Though I did complete a sweet trip down the Bremner River in Canada that spring.

1996 Jeff Kolka becomes a traitor winning with Serge. In my mind the only reason Serge wins is because he's got really fast Americans pulling him. I couldn't be more wrong, but whatever. I met this pretty girl a month later. I don't remember anything about the race for a solid half a decade. Not sure I even read the Grayling Fish Wrapper articles about it at Dads. 2001 though, pretty cool year. Marlana is doing the race with her boyfriend Chris. I feign disinterest but deep down I am ultra jealous. One of the following years Christian and I chase the race all the way to Parmalee. He fills my head full of stories, growing up in the neighborhood with the Shorts. I recognize that name, that dude looked like a freaking DORITO when I was a kid. He was ripped (still is), shaped like a triangle. I couldn't tell you how much mega mass (maybe that's what it was I can't remember) and creatine I took as a high schooler trying to look like that dude. Read Muscle and Fitness. Lifted weights (weakly). No results.

2008 life brings me to Grayling, living in town. I push a stroller with my two year old daughter Katie in it down to Penrods for Spike's Challenge. Chris Kucherek takes the chute with Rich Kent. Maybe someday I'll get a racing canoe.

Someone put me on the spot today, asking me my earliest marathon recollections. BT and Jeff with what I think was the Hassel boat, listening in on people talking about how this was the year. People talking about the Olympian. As a grown adult the first time Bruce said "Hey Bill" I was on cloud nine for a few days. '92 was an Olympic year and there was an OLYMPIAN in Grayling. It was a big deal to 11 year old Bill, even though I never saw the man. I mixed up my '94 and '96 earlier. '94 was a rough year for me as a kid. That trip down the Bremner combined with Mo and Matt going 15:30. Big moments. Interesting "where were you" story in that we finished our Bremner trip on June 17th, and got to watch the OJ Simpson chase live on TV in Canada.

Here I am days away from going down the river again. Kids of my own that would be pretty upset if our weekends didn't involve the river or racing. I'm not sure they can throw a baseball even though I've asked multiple times if they wanted to do something other than canoe class and cross country ski. And that pretty girl from 1996? She picks me up from the river and takes them to class.

Crazy how life works out.

Chris Hewitt

Chris Hewitt:

1993. We were staying at a friends cabin and my dad and uncle went into town to get beer just as the race was getting ready to start. After watching the gun go off, they ran back to get us and go to the nearest bridge to the place we were staying. I recall playing in the water at McMasters bridge when suddenly thousands of fans and feeders swarmed the area and was amazed by the spectacle of it all. 31 starts later between my dad and myself, it was an expensive beer run.

Sean Brabant

Sean Brabant:

I do not recall the year, early 90s, my dad would take me up to the start and put me on his shoulders so I could see. We were always on the hill by the crime lab. I continued following with friends throughout middle and high school and drink all night in college. In 2012 my buddy and I followed it and at Mio I said we should do it. We bought a gillies the next month.

Brian Kartanys:

Some time in the mid to late 80s. I was probably around 12-13 and growing up on the thumb. Still live there. Not a lot of rivers in this area but ways loved the water. Even then my ideal vacation would be to load up a tent, supplies and paddle down a river for a week. Anyways, I remember reading an article in the Detroit News about the marathon. I don't remember what names were mentioned, who won, or anything. I just remember the picture of a couple of teams paddling like there were no tomorrow. Of course, this being before internet, this was my only exposure to the marathon. Just one newspaper article from 30 years ago. Always wanted to watch the race. Ended up the first time I was actually around the marathon was to be a feeder for Brandon Gerardy and Stephen Leppard. Way cool...first time to see the marathon and actually got to be part of it. We've done 7 marathons since 2008...and it has been like an awakening each year.

Austin Weiler

Austin Weiler:

I haven’t the slightest clue as to the year but with my fathers 30+ years of work on the committee the marathon has simply always been there. Early on I’d be so excited to watch Spikes sprints and hear stories. My whole world was about hanging sponsor banners at Ray’s for the race and putting it all together. Running pennants across the river and pounding fence post I very quickly gained an appreciation for what it takes to run this event. I’d save my money to buy a boat or paddle but being a kid without an income I never got very far. I’d count the days until I was 15 but summers full of high school sports got in the way. I had to get my fix by watching old VHS tapes and DVDs of races past and that’s where I learned the basic shape of a paddle stroke. In 2012 I finally got the chance to participate at 20 years old. After that 35th place finish I knew that the committee life was behind me and paddler life was in front. 6 for 6 is something I am more proud of than any time or place I have finished and in just a few days I get to go for 7 with one of my best friends.

Ryan Matthews

Ryan Matthews:

1991, I was 7 years old. My parents took me canoe-camping down the whole river over the course of a week sometime near Father's Day. Along the way, my dad told me about this world famous canoe race where the paddlers raced half the race at night. Later that summer I remember hanging out with my dad at home on a warm July evening. We were listening to the radio in the living room while playing games; a few songs would play and then updates about the race would be broadcast. I remember one of the updates talking about this guy named Al Widing, who was in his mid-60s and having a great race. I remember them talking about how Rick Joy was leading the race at Mio and McKinley, holding off the defending champs Serge and Brett. I remember the update about the top five canoes all coming into Alcona and Five Channels within seconds of each other, and how three canoes were still neck and neck and neck at Foote. I stayed up really late that night listening to the radio...long after my dad had fallen asleep in his chair. I kept picturing that canoe trip and what it might be like to be in that race. I remember watching the teams at the finish line a few years in my pre-pubescent and early teenage years. Then in 2001, when I was in high school, I was asked to help mow the grass on Cooke and Foote Dams, and that's when I became a volunteer for the race. My dad started racing around that time too, so I started going to watch him at the races. He had built his own cedar strip racing C1 and wooden race paddles with his best friend Bruce a few years prior...their plan was to train with their homemade canoes and then race the Marathon one day. I remember thinking that my dad did fairly well for a rookie in a wooden boat with wooden paddles compared to guys with the ultra light stuff. I remember when my dad got the 1997 Marathon book too. I read that thing from cover to cover several times. I grew up loving baseball and baseball stats, so I started my own little notebook in 2002, trying to figure out the results of the old races using the Marathon book (the results couldn't be found anywhere!), and I kept stats on my dad's MCRA races too. My dad's friend Bruce died suddenly in 2002, and my dad raced his first Marathon the following year. A few years later, in 2007, I joined the Oscoda committee because I had some ideas for the race. About a year later or so, Cheryl Lucey gave me the email address for a gentleman named John Cook; the Marathon's historian at that time. I used to ask Cheryl so many questions about the racers and the past races that she suggested I contact John directly for the answers. In 2011, after a few years of picking John's brain and doing some more research of my own, he passed the torch to me to be the new historian of the race. Funny enough, it would still be a few years before I would meet him in person.


This is only a few of the stories that were shared on Bill's facebook post, so stay tuned future posts with more of these great stories. I wish everyone a safe trip down the Ausable next Saturday/Sunday!

259 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page