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Reservist paddles famous New York waterway

Master Sgt. Helen Crouch holds a trophy she won from a recent canoe regatta she paddled in New York state. (Courtesy photo)

Master Sgt. Helen Crouch holds a trophy she won from a recent canoe regatta she paddled in New York state. (Courtesy photo)

WESTOVER AIR RESERVE BASE, Mass. -- Master Sgt. Helen Crouch, 439th Aeromedical Staging Squadron medical technician, recently paddled a scenic route famous in American colonial history and took first place in the women's division of a racing canoe regatta.

Sergeant Crouch maneuvered her racing canoe 70 miles down New York's Susquehanna River from Glimmerglass Lake at Cooperstown, past Oneonta to Bainbridge in the annual General Clinton Canoe Regatta. The canoe race is named for General James Clinton who led a Continental Congress Army expedition on down the Susquehanna on flat bottomed boats against the Iroquois. Glimmerglass and the area are also celebrated in James Fenimore Cooper's Last of the Mohicans and other Leatherstocking Tales.

Sergeant Crouch's win during the Memorial Day weekend was the 24th consecutive General Clinton Canoe Regatta in which she has participated.

The race is a serious competition, with more than 270 participants from around the country. They are highly conditioned athletes who race canoes that may be made of graphite and cost $3,500 and use $300 bent shaft graphite paddles.

To compete, Sergeant Crouch paddled regardless of the weather up to four hours every night following her job as a special education teacher. For an extra edge, she ate a high protein, low carbohydrate diet for a week. The strategy is to deplete the muscles of carbohydrates and make them receptive to absorbing carbohydrates. For four days before the race she reversed her diet to saturate her muscles with carbohydrates.
The competitors needed every advantage they could get on the Susquehanna, which can be a treacherously shallow and unforgiving stretch of water.

"The Susquehanna has bad places where canoers have died … the dynamics of the river change every year," Sergeant Crouch said. "It is not a race you can go into without practice. There are rocks, debris, trees. Flood waters eat at the banks and move trees and debris around," she said.

"This year was a real physical challenge. The water was very shallow and the temperatures were 85 or 90 degrees. You can't choose in the river where you want to go. When the water is so shallow, the current takes you into debris and you have to work to get around it," she said.

"Flood years have another set of challenges," she said.

Canoe racing season starts in March and continues until the snow season. "Tipping over can be cold. The water is like someone put a fist in your stomach," Sergeant Crouch said.

The physical challenges of canoe racing also provide the reward that motivates her to keep coming back to the sport each year, she said.

"I like being out in nature and enjoy the spiritual aspect," she said.