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Friday, May 3, 2002 --- Albright, WV
Cheat Downriver Race (iPO Event Id#: 4848)
Story by Rick Gusic with photos by Julie Black.

[Details] [Coverage] [Overall Results] [Team Results] [Pic Set 1] [Pic Set 2]
Past Cheat Race Coverage: [1999] [2000] [2001]

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A big day racing on the Cheat
With thunderstorms pounding the Cheat watershed all week, many boaters' eyes were closely riveted to the gauges. By race day, the Cheat River would settle in at a level of 5 feet, (a pumping flow of close to 7,000 cfs). This was a level never seen before in the 7-year history of the race. This level would be sure to put a "hurting" on those boaters who would stray too far off the correct race line! Despite these almost flood conditions pumping in the canyon, 62 boaters would show up late Friday afternoon to sign up. For the 4th straight year, a new attendance record would be set, establishing the Cheat Race as one of the largest whitewater races in the country.

As with other years, the Cheat Race kicked off with a mass start as 62 boats scrambled and fought their way off of the starting line. This massive wave of paddlers was looking to get out ahead to the finish line that was located nearly 11 miles downstream.

Breaking out from the pack would be the 5 kayakers competing in downriver boats who jockeyed in and out of position until hitting the 3rd major rapid on the river, Big Nasty. Big Nasty is the signature rapid on the Cheat at high water. It is an imposing force as 3/4 of the river's 7,000 cfs funnels into a massive hydraulic which is more than capable of steam-rolling 18-foot rafts. Needless to say, when US Wild Water Team member Simon Beardmore dropped into the hole, his 25 pound downriver boat wouldn't stand a chance. Shattered and crushed into pieces, his boat would quickly sink and float to shore. Simon would walk away unscathed and claim the "carnage" award, an 18x24 glossy poster from the movie Titanic.

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Fighting through the race traffic
The remaining 4 racers would battle it out to the end, with US Team Trials Champion Andrew McEwen (55:11), claiming the top prize over up-start newcomer Dave "the Irish hammer" Hammond by only 24 seconds. Close behind was defending champion, Steve Kauffman, (57:31) finishing 3rd followed by the always dangerous and unpredictable Brian Homberg, (57:40).

Unlike other races, the Cheat Canyon Downriver Race also plays host to multiple classes for people racing in other types of boats. Three other boat classes would be held; featuring race, long and short boat division classes.

In the Race Boat Class, Nate Ober (1:00:55), struggling student and raft guide, would pull out all the stops and questionable techniques to edge out race organizer Rick Gusic by 20 seconds, claiming the Race Boat class title and finishing 5th overall to Gusic's 6th place. Only 2 plus minutes behind Gusic would be the Long Boat Class Winner, Laurel Highland's most famous kayaker, Bill Zollars (1:03:26). Bill took home the honors by out lasting the Monocacy Canoe Club's prize racer, DC native Kevin Williams by 29 seconds.

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The Cheat was raging
Other divisions would showcase the C1/Open Canoe Class, which would see Steve Frazier once again dominate and crush the one bladed field for his 3rd straight Cheat Race title! Steve has never been beaten in this race, so congratulations on a job well done!

The Women's Class/Division would shrink considerably this year as the high water would chase off many of the top women competitors. Heather Rau would step up though, and take on the high water to claim an impressive first place with a time of 1:20:13.

The last division award would go in the Short Boat Class, masochists who love to compete in very slow boats under the length of 10 feet. With 24 kayaks in this hotly contested class, the battle would actually go on for days as the timekeepers made a mistake and declared a wrong winner. In the end, when the dust settled, longtime veteran and highly acclaimed kayaker Bob Gedekoh (1:07:22) would in fact be the winner over Harper Ferry resident,Scott "Battling" Butts (1:10:08) with the pride of Ohio, Dave Shannon, coming in third.

Other awards would also be handed out. A Team Competition was held featuring 10 different clubs, companies, and groups. Despite all the new teams, it was last year's champions that again emerged victorious. Claiming the corporate title (rafting and other paddling related companies) was Team Mountain Streams, who spanked the field when it's team members claimed the 5th, 6th, and 7th place spots. Once again Mountain Streams dominantly showed which guides truly "know" the Cheat. The Club Title (paddling clubs) , would feature the Three Rivers Paddling Club, the Keelhaulers, Kent State Kayaking Club, and the WV Wild Water Association, all sending multiple teams. In the end, it would be the trash-talking boaters from Kent State edging out their hated intrastate rivals, the Keelhaulers.

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Going deep in the whitewater
Congratulations to all racers who competed this year. Thanks for attending and also displaying good sportsmanship by lending a hand to those racers who got in trouble. Many instances occurred in the race where competitors slowed down and even stopped to help those in trouble. Despite a broken boat and approximately 10 swims, everyone would get off the river reasonably safe and secure.

A special shout out goes to film star, Rich Yester, who would be the sole safety boater at Big Nasty Rapid. Rich ended up working his tail off in retrieving floating equipment all evening. Afterwards, the competitors would be shuttled back by Mountain Streams Outfitters and Teeter's Campground to attend a post-race party with free cold brew and great prizes.

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And the big boats led the way
Thanks to the Race Sponsors. . .
Prizes were handed out courtesy of Jeff Prycl, owner of Rocky Mountain Kayak located in New Stanton, Pennsylvania. Check out Rocky Mountain Kayak @ For the 2nd straight year Jeff was the primary sponsor of the race, helping immeasurably in all aspects. Thanks Jeff! Other sponsors included Morgantown's West Virginia Brewery, who generously donated 2 kegs for this event's post-race party. Thanks goes out to Laurel Highlands Outfitters for letting the racers use their property, and to Mountain Streams who donated buses, trucks, vans and their home base for the festivities.

Special Thanks. . .
The Cheat Race is helped and run by the Friends of the Cheat, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to restore, preserve and promote the outstanding natural qualities of the Cheat River watershed. Special thanks goes to Executive Director Keith Pitzer for his great support in making this race happen. Please help support those businesses and groups above that were supportive of this event. Without their time and money, this great race wouldn't be possible. See you all next year!