Columbia women rely on experience in marathon river race

Monday, August 23, 2010 | 10:22 p.m. CDT; updated 12:07 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, August 25, 2010
Kayaking partners Cami Ronchetto, left, and Linda LaFontaine sit in Ronchetto's garage among gear and supplies as they prepare for the last year's Missouri RIver 340. The Columbia residents went on to win the women’s tandem division in 2009. They are competing again this year to see if they can improve their performance.

Having their boat assaulted by groups of large fish wasn't something Linda LaFontaine and Cami Ronchetto were expecting as participants in last summer's Missouri River 340 race.

“Last year, when we were training, we were a target for carp. They constantly hit the boat,” Ronchetto said by email Monday.

But the pair of Columbia residents weren't deterred and found a way to find add humor to the experience. LaFontaine and Ronchetto are set to participate in the event again this year as the Carp Target Grannies.

The team name also notes another unique aspect of the pair. LaFontaine said she is almost 60 and that her partner is almost 50, making them the oldest women’s tandem competing in the race, a 340-miler designed for canoes and kayaks along the Missouri River that begins Tuesday.

Paddlers begin at Kaw Point in Kansas City, Kan., and the finish line is in St. Charles. Participants have 88 hours to complete the race, which was originally scheduled for mid-July, but was postponed because rain had caused the river to reach flood stage. Nearly 100 of the original 350 participants dropped out of the race.

Last year, LaFontaine and Ronchetto won the women’s tandem division, at one point paddling for 40 hours and 241 miles with no sleep.

“It was brutal. That took a lot of mental determination,” LaFontaine said by email Monday.

In their second year, LaFontaine and Ronchetto, who were coworkers at Walnut Creek Day School in Columbia several years ago, say they want to see if they can push themselves mentally and physically even further. 

Blisters, back pain, sleep deprivation are common for race participants, but LaFontaine and Ronchetto say they think their past experience will help them get past those hardships, despite their age.

“Old muscles don’t perform as well as young muscles. But we are both active and in good shape, and have been training for this race. So, we are determined-which may give us a mental advantage,” LaFontaine said.

The pair have upgraded their equipment. They’re paddling a lighter and more streamlined Huki Surfski, a specialized boat designed with gull wings on the back to prevent tipping.

Ronchetto is a veteran to adventure sports competitions. In the past 15 years, she has participated in events such as biking, white-water rafting, canoeing, horseback riding and navigating.

“I believe my experiences have prepared me for suffering through the race and I’ve become more apt with age,” she said Monday.

Their participation in the event has become a family event for both women. Their husbands meet them at every checkpoint with food, water and other supplies. LaFontaine's parents, Paul and Barbara Coffman of Camdenton, Mo., will watch her compete in the race. They both turned 80 this year.

Despite the difficulties associated with the race, LaFontaine says the race has given her a new perspective on the Missouri River and its surroundings. “We paddled at night and all day. It was just incredibly beautiful seeing the river change like that.”

Race director Scott Mansker said the race has changed the way participants view and appreciate the Missouri River. An area that was once desolate and used mostly for commercial purposes has become a place of recreation.

“Getting people in that intimate contact with the river, it changes them,” he said Monday.

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Tracy Greever-Rice August 24, 2010 | 7:59 a.m.

Any men in this race between the ages of 49 and 59 or older than 59? Where's the story about how amazing it is a 49 year old man paddled a canoe?

(Report Comment)
Laura Johnston August 24, 2010 | 8:10 a.m.

Thanks for your question. I'm sure we'll be writing more about the folks competing in this race, so come back as the event progresses.
Laura Johnston,

(Report Comment)
judi atwood-wells August 24, 2010 | 8:47 a.m.

My friend and I are 68 yrs. young and have canoed together off and on for the past 55 yrs. Living on the Lake of The Ozarks has permitted us to continue this recreation in a beautiful peaceful setting. A 100 mile competition is scheduled for Kayaks and Canoes on Sept. 24-26th at The Lake with cash prizes. We won't be entering but it is for professionals as well as families and teams. Sounds great!!!!!!!!!!! Go Girls, and all others! (SMILE)

(Report Comment)
judi atwood-wells August 24, 2010 | 8:50 a.m.

P.S. My mother was still in the canoe at 80, so this sport is definately a can do for the "YOUNG AT HEART"!

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