"We love watching the Tigers and the Grizzlies, and we love going to the music fest. But that's when you're a spectator. This is to be a participator — to be moving, to be doing things."
Joe Royer, owner of Outdoors Inc., is talking about the 27th Annual Canoe & Kayak Race, happening this Saturday on the Mississippi River. The event draws roughly 500 participants. "There will be about 50 people training every day, trying to peak for this race," Royer says. "Then there will be another 50, who will be good, solid canoe-club paddlers. This is their big event of the year. The [vast majority], by far, will be doing it because it's an event to do in Memphis."
In 2002, two-time Olympic gold medalist Greg Barton, who'll be returning this year, set a record time of 15:39. That year was the last time the river was this high for the race. Last week, the river crested at nearly 38 feet. "The current is faster when the water's high," Royer says. "When the record was set, the river was in the mid-20s. The forecast right now is for it to be in the high 20s."
Royer points out that safety is the number-one priority, with the U.S. Coast Guard, the harbor patrol, and other groups on hand to make sure everything is under control. But the river's unpredictability is part of its appeal, Royer admits: "When I started this event, I wanted to demonstrate that people didn't have to drive to the ocean, didn't have to drive to the Ozarks or to East Tennessee to have recreation. We could have recreation right here in our city. The fact that the river is extreme is its best asset."
Annual Outdoors, Inc. Canoe & Kayak Race, Saturday, May 3rd. Race starts at 10:13 a.m. Participants must register by 6 p.m. Friday, May 2nd, at any Outdoors, Inc. location. For more information, go to outdoorsinc.com.