At this year’s ACA Downriver Nationals in Old Town, Maine, the old school (old’s cool) pairing of Rob Center and Kay Henry — Center, the co-founder of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail, and Henry of Mad River Canoe (now owned by Confluence) — still proved formidable, coming out of retirement after 15 years and fresh back from a 21-day hiking trip in Scotland, to not only show up but win the Mixed 55+ Class. We caught up with Center for his take on the win…
Tell us why you decided to compete, the boat you used and how it felt to race.
Center: We were so energized after our trip in the Highlands and Outer Hebrides that we came out of hiding and went up to Old Town to try our luck in the ACA Downriver Nationals. We borrowed a Penobscot 17 and ended up winning the Mixed Class 55+ and were the fifth boat overall in the Rec Class itself. It was a hoot to be back in moving water again as well as seeing many paddling friends of yester-year.
PL: When was the last time you two raced together?
Center: It was May 5, 2001 44th Annual Hudson River North Creek, NY. This was officially to be Kay’s last race as she helped me usher in my 50th birthday!
PL: When was the last time you two raced at the ACA Nationals?
Center: That was 1993 at Nantahala Outdoor Center where we won the OC-2 Mixed Recreation. In 1989, while training for the Arctic Canoe race in Finland where we were the first Americans to compete as well as win, we raced the Nationals in Maine on the Dead River. We are well remembered for leading the race and then three miles from the finish I called a wrong route and broke our Mad River Typhoon in half. We hauled ourselves on a rock and every competitor passed us while we waited to get on the sweep raft. Kay didn’t talk to me for weeks after!
PL: How’d it feel to pull off the win in your class?
Center: My greatest joy was to get Kay to enter a whitewater competition again after 15 years as she emphatically had sworn off in 2001. We both had such a great time just getting back in a downriver canoe and paddle in a river. To do this on the Penobscot was very special given its renaissance as a free-flowing river from Old Town to the Sea.
And, I guess I have to admit that, well, we didn’t have any other entries in the 55+ Mixed Class Recreation which, for lack of a better word, was the Royalex class. Yet we
were fifth overall in the entire class so not too bad for a bunch of old farts!
PL: Tell us about your canoe…it wasn’t a Mad River?
Center: This was the first whitewater race that we ran in a canoe other than a Mad River canoe. Scott Phillips, the race organizer and owner of Northeast Outdoor Sports that represents Old Town Canoe, is a long-time industry friend. He busted a gut over our canoe of choice. We had so much fun that we plan to go back to Old Town to compete again for the final year that the Penobscot Nation will host the ACA Nationals.
PL: Did you train at all on the NFCT beforehand?
Center:No. We went for one-hour early morning paddles on Casco Bay at our home in Harpswell, Maine. We played with the wind, waves, and tides as a counter to training on a moving river. We paddled an additional 17 minutes and we were pretty gassed when we reached the finish line.