Starting and finishing at Black Creek in Athens, Wisconsin, the Udder Snowshoe Race has the feel of a festival yet attracts top participants from the region. Why? It is all because of the fun race director, Christine Kepner, and her team of volunteers provide in this one-of- a-kind snowshoe event. Do the winners really have to jump into the frozen drink?
No! The annual splash into the frozen water is only for the losers! (just kidding). But it is all by choice, a delicious ending to an exciting race day. If only this option were available in July….
Continuing to grow in size in Snowshoe Magazine’s national Hot Bed of Snowshoeing region, a record 120 participated in the 2009 event. With ages from 5 to 70ish, all have fun yet the racing is intense for those in the front of the pack. How could it not be with Mountain Man, Jay Punke – with his racing entry listing his name as ‘CJ Snowshoe’ – taking the overall race win on this 5 km course in 24:57. A fixture in the emerging Mountaineer Class, Jay normally races with four feet Iverson Cross Country wooden snowshoes and a 15 pound weighted vest as his required backpack for the class. So for these ‘normal’ races, he dials back somewhat; he doesn’t wear the backpack and he wears regular snowshoes. Judy Punke won her class, too. Jay and Judy are the Race Directors of the Stomp the Swamp Snowshoe Race, Wausau, with its wild race shirt a top prize to entrants.
Jay just won, though; Bart Hallgren, another top junior snowshoer from Medford, chased him to the line. Kyle Schmidt, Catawba, and Mike Quednow of Westboro followed. The Quednow family are key organizers of the USSSA Qualifier held earlier this year in Rib lake.
In the women’s class the top two know each other well from these snowshoe races as they often finish one, two; both from Medford, Michelle Brost led Michayla Heil (see photo, top, leading Brian Hallgren) over the finish by 20 seconds. Just like the Perkinstown race in January. With Michelle, 39, racing like a teenager, and Michayla, 17, racing like the veteran she is, it is always quite a show at the front with these two. Six finishers in the overall first 11 are Medford residents.
Paula Liske, Medford, an organizer of the Perkinstown Snowshoe Races, finished second in the class behind Mary Lucas, Rhinelander.
The youngest racer in the “Men 12 and under” group of four was Tanner Wagner-Durr, 8, of Athens. By the way, the winner of that class, Joshua Van Tixel, an eleven year old from Athens, finished a little past midway overall.
Not to be outdone, in the “Womens 12 and under” group (3 entrants), Madison Wagner-Durr, 5 (pink photo, leading her father) finished in grand style – look at her determination. Hanna Luther, Athens, almost a senior at age 12, won the class.
These two young classes are the future of snowshoeing. If the desire is there, young snowshoers are destined to compete at the National level, first as Junior National Representatives and then to the Senior Classes without the injuries that often accompany many sports for kids. In other words these young snowshoers being introduced to the sport by some very smart, farsighted parents and family are the future of snowshoeing.
Sometime later in life, all can enjoy snowshoeing as does Roddie Larson, 71, United States Snowshoeing Class Champion, from Menasha (photo, with Hanna Luther). Roddie is a fixture at snowshoe races in the region and charms all with her wit and enthusiasm. Roddie led 12 year old class winner, Hanna Luther, across the finish line.
In the men’s class, the oldest participant was Ron Brylski, 70 of Lake Tomahawsk,
finishing in the top half of the field.
The overall 50th place was Lynette Pupp, Stratford; the overall 100th place was taken by Laura Holmes, Medford.
The day was bright and warm as highs reached the late 30’s “so the snow got sugary,” reported Christine. New this year, the start and finish was at Black Creek. “This was great. Everyone loved the visual finish; good for spectators and athletes.”
Redfeather Snowshoes were given away in drawings during the awards ceremony from Silent Glide Canoe & Kayak of Medford. Christine reported that “Many other gifts and prizes were donated from our community.”
As a fund raiser, this event succeeds, too. The Quad-A (Athens Advancement Agriculture Association) receives the proceeds from today’s race. Active in the Athens Fair, scheduled for Friday, August 21, 2009, the fair grounds are open without admission cost and the show, a music and comedy program featuring “Da Yoopers,” is free, too.
More horses and wagons at the snowshoe races. Volleyball, too! And of course the ever popular “Plunger:” hopping in frozen water for charity, raising $4700! It’s not clear if all of the donations are from those who ‘plunge,’ or a combo from those who pay NOT to jump. The 2008 Fair Queen, Danielle Bunkelman, Athens, is photographed jumping into the frigid creek, one of the “queen duties” they have. “She was so nervous all day!” reported Christine. Who wouldn’t have been? And besides, she gathered up the courage and did it.
And how does one finish a snowshoe race day in the heart of America’s Diary land? By drinking what is arguably the best recovery drink around – chocolate milk, free to all racers.
United States Snowshoe Association: www.snowshoeracing.com.
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Photos courtesy of The Udder Snowshoe Race.