Janice Kurbjun
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August 5, 2012
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Frisco's Byrne joins rafting team, seeks world title

The women who currently represent the United States in the rafting world make up the Teva-sponsored team out of Eagle County, but the Red Ladies seek to change that.

Based mostly in Chaffee County, the Red Ladies recently added Frisco's Heather Byrne to their team, making it a six-woman crew that hopes their passion and determination will pay off to send them to the world competition in New Zealand in 2013.

It's not going to be easy to overtake the current national team, Byrne said.

At the national championship on Clear Creek in Idaho Springs this summer, the Red Ladies competed against the Teva team, and beat them in the highest-valued discipline: the downriver race. It's worth 400 points of 1,000, with the slalom (300), the head-to-head (200) and the spring (100) comprising the rest. The Teva team came out ahead in the other three disciplines.

There aren't many races in which the teams meet each other in competition, Byrne said. The Red Ladies were scheduled to attend the Pan-American Championships in Quebec, Canada, but the Teva team wasn't planning to attend.

Where they will meet is in Gore Canyon during a race slated for late this summer. Then they'll meet again at nationals, with a possible handful of events in between. At nationals, the decision of who will head to New Zealand will be made.

There aren't many rafting teams in the United States, and few who compete for the national title, but at the world championships, several dozen countries are represented, Byrne said.

She's looking forward to seeing that competition from a paddler point-of-view rather than a spectator's. She previously traveled with her boyfriend, Todd Toledo, a member of Behind the Eight Ball, the Teva-sponsored men's team based in the Summit County area.

Byrne was among two selected during try-outs two weeks ago, during which four women showed their paddling skills to the existing four-woman team. The national competition rotates between four- and six-woman crews each year, so the team had to add two more paddlers for the 2013 events.

Byrne said she felt at home right away.

"We all have a common interest and passion for the river," she said. "We have a great team dynamic and ultimately want to have fun on the river. Winning would be amazing, but we just want to have fun, though racing internationally is our goal."

Though Byrne - who hails from Cadillac, Mich., and moved to Summit County 10 years ago - works full time at the Ritz Carlton in Vail, she's signed onto four practices per week this summer. Earlier this week, she was on her way to Salida to run the slalom gates, stay the night, and practice the downriver race the following morning before returning to work.

Competing as a team - and potentially competing abroad - not only takes hard work, practice and teamwork, it also takes money. Due to low finances, the team is likely not heading to Quebec. Instead, they'll focus on the Gore Canyon race, and possibly look for money to attend an event on the Gauley River in West Virginia this fall.

As for taking over the national team role, Byrne and her team want it - bad. But they don't expect it to come easily.

"There's no assumptions we'll go out there and beat the U.S. Women's team, but with hard work and the dedication we do have, we'd like to be competition for them and hopefully go to New Zealand as the national team in 2013," Byrne said.


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The Summit Daily Updated Aug 5, 2012 11:37PM Published Aug 5, 2012 11:35PM Copyright 2012 The Summit Daily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.