| Mary Marshall Seaver, foreground,
and Eleanor Perry shoulder their boats to the top
of the slalom course at Santa Rita Park last week.
The two are among a handful of local racers who brave
the frigid Animas to train in the winter./Photo by
The sun had long since
dipped behind Smelter Mountain last Thursday as Mary Marshall
Seaver and Eleanor Perry slipped into their matching pink
drytops. But don’t let the pastel colors fool you.
These ladies, who spend five out of seven afternoons a
week braving the frigid waters of the Animas, are tough.
“Today’s not even cold
at all,” said Seaver, as she hoisted her long boat
onto her shoulder for the hike from the parking lot to
the slalom course below Smelter Rapid. She and the other
members of the Durango Whitewater Center for Excellence
were heading out for a swift water workout – running
gates in the river’s current while coach Cathy Hearn
Durango Whitewater’s winter
training sessions draw about 13 racers, ranging in age
and ability from 11-year-old Rogan Brown, who is barely
big enough to see over his cockpit, to Seaver, 29, a former
world champion silver medalist. And while the racers may
differ in stature and skill, one thing is constant: the
cold doesn’t bother them, and if it does, they don’t
|Seaver slips into her boat before
practice./Photo by Dustin Bradford
According to Durango Whitewater coach
John Brennan, a world-class racer who competed from 1988-96,
finding the motivation to overcome the cold is easy.
“If you want to be a great kayaker,
you have to kayak,” he said. “There are few
flukes in slalom racing. If you want to be good, you need
Brennan, who has been involved with
the group since its inception in 1990, knows all too well
the pitfalls of cold-water paddling: frozen life vest
buckles, icicles hanging off the blade of the paddle,
numb fingers, driving home in iced-over gear that refuses
“I’ve done it many times,”
But for Brennan, and other members
of the team, the cold is a small pittance to pay for a
“So what if it’s cold?
I’ve flipped when it’s been below zero,”
he said. “But the fact is you get to go kayaking.
I’ll take that any day.”
And for the Olympic hopefuls on the
team, there is an added incentive to roughing it: a spot
on the U.S. Team, which is holding the first of several
trials in February, and ultimately, a shot at the gold.
In the spring of 2000, Seaver was
poised for such a shot. However, her plan was cut short
by a case of mononucleosis. Chronically fatigued, she
was forced to give up the team and take a desk job in
Washington, D.C. Thinking her racing career was over,
she decided to move on with her life.
“I got sick, quit paddling and
moved here as a quality of life decision,” she said.
However, once in Durango, the call of the water proved
too strong. She dusted off the racing gear and got hooked
up with Durango Whitewater.
“After Salt Lake, I said ‘I’m
ready to race again,’” she said. “I’ve
got the passion again, and I’m back.”
Seaver said she is further motivated
by fellow Olympic hopefuls on the team, Ryan Bond, a national
C-1 medalist, and Perry, an 18-year-old rodeo champion
from Carbondale who moved here to make the cross-over
to racing and go to college.
“All of a sudden, we had this
amazing crew, and we all wanted to go to the Olympics,”
Perhaps the biggest factor in motivating
the team this year will prove to be Hearn, a three-time
Olympian who moved to Durango a year ago to coach at the
urging of Brennan.
“I had spent a lot of time in
Durango and was pestered by years to get out here for
good,” said Hearn. “I should have done it
Brennan said Hearn is an invaluable
asset to the team.
“I think she’s the best
coach in the country,” he said. “For her to
finally move here, it’s almost like life is complete.”
Furthermore, Hearn, who started her
own racing career at the age of 11, has an edge over other
coaches in that she’s still active in the racing
“If I race at team trials, I
can give them information about the course that other
coaches can’t,” she said.
And although Hearn said some of the
team’s members are still too young to race competitively
on a national level, the long-term prospects are good.
“We got them young, that’s
the good thing with these little guys,” she said.
“They mentor each other.”
Hearn admits that winter training
is not always ideal – last week 13-year-old John
Gerstenberger slipped on the ice and hurt his arm, and
a few days earlier a younger paddler went for a swim.
But overall, it is an advantage.
“There aren’t many people
training year round, especially groups as big as this,”
With Hearn at the helm full time,
Brennan, who can’t devote all his time to coaching
because of his job as a designer for Prijon Kayaks, still
takes part in workouts when he can.
“I always do the Thursday workout
just to prove that I can still kick their asses,”
However, he noted this is becoming
increasingly harder to do.
“A lot of the kids are
getting close to beating me, and Ryan already has,”
he said. “And I love that. That, to me, is one of
the proudest moments.”