Jackie Holloran has adopted a new hobby which further reinforces her “river rat” nickname.
The Smithville woman grew up a water skier and later adopted stand-up paddle boarding. But the self-described “adventure junkie” has now joined the kayak community after having been a longtime observer and admirer of the Missouri American Water MR 340 race.
The 340 refers to the kayak race’s total miles while the competition and endurance test are “the world’s longest nonstop paddling race,” as described on the website. “I’ve been obsessed with it for years and I just want to say I did it,” she said.
Co-workers at the Platte County Parks and Recreation Department, where Holloran works as recreation and marketing coordinator, gave her the “river rat” moniker after learning of her water sport background and love affair with the river.
Holloran said she’s sometimes frustrated people think of the river as “scary or dirty.” But her county position gives her voice to tout the river’s advantages, which she readily lists as abundant wildlife sightings and beautiful, serene settings. But she has noticed an increasing number of families jumping into river sports from their posts on sandbars and marinas. The 340 also is evidence of the river’s growing popularity, Holloran said. The race’s first year in 2006 with 16 paddlers while the race’s top year in 2018 and boasted 433 boats, according to the website.
While her love of the Missouri is great, her knowledge of the river’s perils and preparation caused her pause before she decided to join her first race, which is taking place as this edition of The Landmark goes to press. Those obstacles range from 50-pound Asian Carp that sometimes jump out of the water to damage kayaks or injure paddlers and buoys and other obstacles such as large rocks and tree branches that extend from the water. These obstacles can flip kayaks and their paddlers and/or damage the crafts sometimes beyond repair.
Having participated in water sports for a lifetime, the 56-year-old also knew the amount of training, including practice runs on the river in her newly purchased kayak and dozens of other supplies she needed to purchase before this summer’s competition. Despite her background, the preparation and race mark the first time she’s ever been in a kayak. Necessities include ample sunscreen, which is applied liberally throughout the race for areas not covered by head-to-toe water-resistant clothing, sunblock for lips and frozen packs for necks.
This year’s race began Tuesday, July 12 in Kansas City, Kan. and is scheduled to conclude in St. Charles, Mo. later this week.
Participants enjoy a river-side party at the course’s end, with family and friends who served as “ground crews” there to help celebrate. Ground crews support competitors by handing out drinks, food, and other needed supplies at stops along the course. Obstacles they face range from 50-pound Asian Carp that sometimes damage kayaks or their paddlers when they jump out of the water and buoys extending from the water that can flip kayaks and their paddlers and/or damage the crafts sometimes beyond repair.
The Coast Guard conducts annual safety meetings, aimed at preventing serious injuries and these sessions are mandatory for participants. Despite precautions, injuries and illness sometimes occur.
One year, Rusty Coons, who has raced for the past nine years, failed to drink enough fluids with electrolytes, which led to dehydration, a dangerously low blood pressure and a blood clot, said his wife, Amber. He made a full recovery but was forced to leave the race early, she said.
Most participants collect pledges from friends and family prior to the race. Proceeds benefit Missouri River Relief, a non-profit dedicated to river education and clean-up. Scott Mansker and Russ Payzant organized the first race in 2006 with only 16 paddlers, according to the website. The co-founders soon formed Rivermiles, which has organized and hosted the event for the past 15 years.
For the first time this year, the non-profit Missouri River Relief will host the race and future races.
The event’s largest year was 2018 when 433 boats participated. Flooding and COVID have postponed and delayed the event more than once.
Area locals, many from Platte County, are joined by those from as far away as Hawaii, Australia and England, Holloran said. The Coons family, of Camden Point, are among the Platte County area crowd. Like many, the race veterans have been hooked since their first races-nine years ago for Rusty and seven years ago for Amber.
Participants are all ages, with the oldest participant at 88, Amber said. A 75-year-old hitch-hiked to the race after having constructed his own kayak, she said.
The Coonses, who are 41, usually race from the same kayak and took fourth in their division last year.
Participants must remain ahead of the Reaper Boat, decorated to resemble the grim reaper, a stylized skeletal being who visits the dying, Amber Coons said. If participants lag behind the reaper boat, they are disqualified. However, not all participants choose to compete and “that’s the good thing about it,” Amber said. If participants eye a participant in trouble, due to a flipped kayak or other mishap, they abandon their spot in the race and rush to help.
“First and foremost, you worry about the other person,” Amber said and added, “.this is an amazing community.”