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Couple shares 45 years of racing and the friends they meet on their journey

Times Observer photo by Brian Ferry Karen Simpson (left) of Toronto and Beth Schluter of Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, are all smiles Friday after taking third overall and first in their age category in the C2 Women marathon at the U.S. Canoe and Kayak National Championships on the Allegheny River in Warren County.

For more than 45 years, Errol and Beth Schluter of Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, have been going to the U.S. Canoe and Kayak National Championships.

“We started nationals in 1972,” Errol said.

“I got involved in paddling with my husband by going on canoe camping trips,” Beth said. “We met friends through paddling that started racing.”

Racing agreed with their competitive natures. “That inspired us to race canoes,” she said.

They have been to Warren for three nationals events, but have never paddled together in Warren. Errol has not competed since the 90s due to his health. “We used to go all over the country for nationals,” he said. They even competed in the whitewater nationals.

Times Observer photo by Brian Ferry Errol Schluter of Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, encourages paddlers Friday from Breeze Point during the U.S. Canoe and Kayak National Championship marathons on the Allegheny River.

Now, Errol still travels all over the country with Beth. He is her support crew. Well, he and their three yellow labs.

Since they can’t paddle together, Beth needs a teammate for events that involve more than one paddler.

On Friday, Beth paddled with Karen Simpson of Toronto — who believes she has been to all seven nationals events in Warren — to a third-place overall in the C2 Women marathon and first in the Grand Veteran I age category.

“We had a good run with minimum mistakes,” Beth said. “We stayed dry at the flame rapids. They’re always challenging.”

It was not their first time working together.

Beth and Karen met in the early 2000s “at a nationals somewhere,” Beth said.

Their personalities and abilities fit. “You have a similar appreciation for the sport… for the camaraderie,” Karen said.

“Every time we meet, we decide what we’re going to do next,” Karen said. “We’ve done some outrigger races together.”

“They’ve paddled in Hawaii,” Errol said.

“This is a relatively small sport,” Beth said. “Everybody pretty much knows everybody.”

“One day, you compete against each other,” she said. “At other times, you jump in the boat with them.”

Generally, a paddler who races solo in a canoe one day has to find a man to paddle with one day and a woman to paddle with on the other in order to compete.

Karen and Beth are done competing together in this event, but they will see each other again — even in the winter. They ski together, as well.

Cross-country skiing is another discipline in which Beth competes at the highest levels.

“She’s a world champion cross-country skier,” Errol said.

She has competed in both world and national events in the masters division.

“I’ve won my division multiple times,” Beth said.

The two events make sense. “They complement each other very well,” Beth said. “The upper body… the paddle stroke is very similar to the skate skiing technique.”

Both make heavy cardio-vascular demands on the body.

Even the seasons work. It’s harder to paddle during a Wisconsin winter and difficult to ski when there isn’t snow.

She likes to challenge herself and compete and her sports of choice have allowed her to continue into her 70s.

“You never stop learning,” Beth said. “I’m still learning to paddle.”

“It’s a challenge,” Beth said. “My own personal challenge.”

And the sports get the Schluters where they want to be, in nature.

“There are so many beautiful places to go paddling,” Beth said.

“She hunts a lot, too,” Errol said.

The marathons kick off at the tailwaters of Kinzua Dam at 9 a.m. Saturday and Sunday with different categories starting in waves. Every paddler will pass through the City of Warren on the river. There is an turn for most categories at the Warren General Hospital helicopter pad. Racers will go upstream from there back to the Veterans Memorial Bridge at Hickory Street, turn again, and head downstream to Betts Park. The races will conclude by noon.

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