In most sports, the older you get, the harder it is to compete with the best of the best.
Canoeing is clearly an exception to that rule. Or maybe Priscilla Reinertson is the exception.
Reinertsen, 69, is competing at the USCA (United States Canoe Association) National Championships this week in Warren County. Despite never paddling until she was "just shy of 40," she quickly became one of the top women in the country.
Photo courtesy of Will Arts Photography/willarts.com
Of all ages
Priscilla Reinertsen, 69, at right, is competing at the USCA (United States Canoe Association) National Championships this week in Warren County. Despite never paddling until she was “just shy of 40,” she quickly became one of the top women in the country.
Reinertsen, originally from Rochester, N.Y. but now living in New Hampshire, was a marathon runner growing up, but injuries forced her to look at other sports.
"Like most distance runners, I ran into some back and hip problems, and it was around that time that my neighbor introduced me to paddling," Reinertsen said.
It just so happens that neighbor was Peter Heed, author of "The Competitor's Guide to Marathon and Downriver Canoe Racing" and a legend in the sport.
Despite being in fantastic shape, Reinertsen made it clear that there was an adjustment period.
"I was strong and lifted weights, but you have to be very skillful and learn to read the water," said Reinertsen, who occasionally does white-water rafting. "You can be strong and fast, but to become a good, clever, knowledgeable racer takes a while. There was a learning curve that really requires some years to become skillful and to learn the strategies."
Not only does Reinertsen attend USCA nationals every year, but she also competes in a 70-mile canoe race in New York - the General Clinton Canoe Regatta - that starts in Cooperstown and ends in Ambridge. She's participated in the race for 30 straight years, setting a record for most appearances by a woman.
Still, she makes it clear that nationals is one of her favorite times of the year.
"Nationals is special because you get to race with people from all over the country," Reinertsen said. "It allows the best to compete against each other in one designated place."
Reinertsen's partners alone range from all over. She placed first in the Women's Masters Sprints (third among all women) on Tuesday with partner Becky Burris, from Arkansas, and also competed with 11-year-old Lindsey Stone from Michigan in the Bantam Sprints. In a third event, she competed in Mixed Masters with a partner from Canada. On Saturday and Sunday, Reinertsen will compete in distance events.
What makes this year's competition even more exciting to Reinertsen is the fact that it's being held in Warren, an area she's very familiar with.
"My parents were actually born in Jamestown, and my father grew up in Scandia, so I used to come to Warren quite often as a kid. It's a lovely area," Reinertsen said about what she calls her "home region."
The President of the New England Canoe and Kayak Association is no longer a newbie. She's responsible for bringing USCA nationals to Hanover, New Hampshire.
She clearly has no plans to slow down. Still, she thinks "someone younger will catch up" and take her record for most appearances by a woman in the 70-mile canoe marathon.
Don't count on it.