SARANAC LAKE — What do an 83-year-old Michigan man, a stand-up paddleboarder and about a dozen members of the Sweeney family have in common?
They all paddled the 90-mile water route from Old Forge to Saranac Lake last weekend in the 28th running of the Adirondack Canoe Classic.
“You have to do it sometime in your life,” said an ecstatic Burt Triebold, who at 83 was the oldest paddler Sunday afternoon. “I don’t care who you are. You’ve got to do it, if you’re first or last. It doesn’t matter, but you have to do it.”
Triebold, who lives in Marshall, Mich., decided to participate in the “90-Miler” after being on a friend’s pit crew last year. Triebold enjoyed the experience so much he decided to put together a team that included his daughter Carole Sinow and friends Bob and Janet Bradford. The group paddled in the C-4 Stock Mixed class and took fifth place out of 15 teams, finishing the three-day course in 15 hours and six seconds.
An experienced paddler, Triebold took the stern for this race, which meant he was in charge of keeping the boat on course over some rough waters. That was no easy task. Some of the bigger lakes, including Upper Saranac Sunday, threw some serious waves at the paddlers.
But Triebold is a former pro paddler who tried out for the U.S. Olympic team as a flatwater kayaker when he was in his prime. So he held his own.
“I’ve been racing since I was probably 40,” said Triebold, who showed no signs of slowing down this weekend.
For paddleboarder Jan Brabant, the conditions were a whole different issue. Brabant paddled a 14-foot-long, 29-pound fiberglass board with a 7-foot-long paddle, becoming the first to do so in the 90-Miler.
On Upper Saranac, the wind forced him to a knee to keep his balance. Brabant finished in 22:48:39, looking exhausted when he got to shore.
“Agghhh, that wind on Upper Saranac Lake, right on our nose, that was a (pain),” said Brabant, who owns a kayak business. “The waves are really no problem for me. It’s just that wind was so intense.”
Brabant expects paddleboards to gain in popularity in coming years.
“You’re going to see more and more of these,” he said. “It’s so simple to use. You just pick it up and go. Great total body exercise. ... It’s a kick.”
Whether the paddleboard becomes a staple in the 90-Miler remains to be seen. Gimmicky boats are often one-hit wonders because they can cause problems for both the paddlers and the organizers, who are responsible for the paddlers’ safety. Just a couple of years ago, a woman was unable to finish the race when her inflatable kayak popped.
Brabant, who is from Clayton on the St. Lawrence River, had spectators walk to the edge of the water and give him a loud applause when he crossed the finish line.
He couldn’t answer whether he would return.
“Ask me in another year,” Brabant said.
The Sweeney clan
Brabant may or may not return, but you can bet members of the Sweeney family will be paddling in the next Classic. They’ve been involved since the early days.
In fact, this year marked the 25th time that Larry Sweeney has completed the 90-Miler. And each of those times, he’s done it with Brian Finn as one of his teammates. The pair went to high school together in Saranac Lake, although Larry now lives in Connecticut and Finn lives in Massachusetts. Finn is an “honorary Sweeney” every 90-Miler weekend.
The event is a tradition for the Sweeney family. Larry said five members of his generation have done it, including his brother John, who is the Saranac Lake village manager. John has done about 15 races but now attends as a spectator.
Members of the younger generation of Sweeneys continue to enter the 90-Miler. Larry’s daughter Emily Sweeney, 17, paddled this weekend.
Emily Sweeney is a member of the U.S. Junior Luge Team.
“Emily’s comment was that she likes the 45-second race better than this one,” joked Larry Sweeney.
When asked if he had a goal in the future that he would like to attain, Larry Sweeney and Finn both said they would be going for No. 30. That’s the next milestone.
Mike Lynch/Lake Placid News
Burt Triebold, 83, impressed the crowd at the Adirondack Canoe Classic by taking fifth place out of 15 teams in the C-4 Stock Mixed class.