Timberline Women making every stroke count
Eagle County corespondent
No lucrative corporate sponsorships. No front-page headlines. No national funding. No magazine covers.
Just this: Eight local women driven to be the best whitewater rafting team in the world.
Katherine Bugby of West Vail has grown accustomed to the reaction she gets when she tells people that she is the captain of Timberline Women ” the national champion women’s whitewater rafting team.
“They go, ‘The U.S. women’s whitewater what?'” Bugby says.
Teammate Lisa Reeder, who has been paddling with Bugby for the last eight years, says she encounters some locals aware of the fact that Vail is home to both the men’s (see story, page A18) and women’s whitewater national champs.
More often, she says, there are those who have no clue that competitive whitewater rafting even exists.
“People don’t understand that there is such a thing as whitewater raft racing,” Reeder says. “A lot of times we talk to people and they say, ‘How many people are in the boat? What kind of oars do you use?'”
For the record, there are six people in the boat at a time. And, they’re not called ores. Oars are for a canoe. Reeder and Bugby use paddles.
They also use each other and teammates Cristin Zimmer, Gabi Knedlick, Lizzie Burnett, Lisa Sackville, Jody Swaboda and Dawn Vogeler for support on days when paddling in obscurity wears down individual resolve.
The Timberline Women may be national champions, but they are also, for the most part, two-job employees who balance children, husbands and boyfriends, all while trying to pool together enough funds to travel and compete.
The team won its third consecutive national championship last August at the Whitewater Cup in nearby Gore Canyon. With the win, Timberline Women became the United States’ representative to compete at 2005 International Rafting Federation World Rafting Championships Ecuador this October, since worlds are held once every two years.
The news wasn’t all good.
To represent its country, the team also earned the chore of coming up with enough money to get there.
“We all have to work so much to make the money to go to these places,” Bugby says. “Not to mention, setting up a fund-raiser is almost like a full-time job. We work 40 hours a week just to pay our bills. Then, setting up the fund-raiser and our T-shirt sales and getting time to practice takes all of our time. That’s why the commitment and dedication is so important for this team. It would not work without the motivation of getting better and going to worlds.”
Not having a national governing body to provide funds and support is just one of many obstacles with which the Timberline Women must contend.
There’s also this: If they want to compete in competitive paddling events during the summer season, they have to do so against men.
There isn’t a substantial amount of women’s teams to flush out female brackets at paddling festivals around the United States.
On Wednesday, the team was barely edged out by the Clear Creek Rafting team, which finished second overall, in the semifinals of the paddlecross through Dowd Chute.
“Nationals is the only time that we have a women’s division,” Bugby says.
The captain, ever the optimist, chooses not to view the reality of competing against men as a disadvantage, however.
She sees it as an advantage for her and her teammates when they finally get to compete solely against other females.
“We like it to be Behind the 8 Ball, Clear Creek, then Timberline Women,” she says. “We always want to be behind the best two men’s teams. Of course, we want to beat them, but we’ve been trying to do that for a long time. We want to be right up there in the top three.”
Some day, Bugby says, she hopes that whitewater rafting will be able to gain Olympic distinction.
Then, she says, athletes like herself would be able to get the recognition and support she feels they deserve.
She and Reeder both said there were rumblings two years ago at worlds in the Czech Republic of trying to get whitewater rafting into the Summer Olympics as an exhibition sport.
But, with only 30 different teams showing up to the world championship, Bugby says the sport still has a ways to go.
“(The International Olympic Committee) said they wanted 100 rafts from different countries and they’d consider it,” Bugby says. “We had 30, and we thought that was big. That was big for worlds.”
Adds Reeder, “They keep trying, but you have to have the support from a certain amount of countries to be able to even get into the pool to even become an exhibition sport. They tried last year to do that and there still is not enough support.”
For now, there’s events like the Teva Mountain Games. And, the dream of Ecuador and a world championship.
It’s enough keep pushing on.
“It’s about putting it all together and taking the (world) title and not just winning one event and losing on the other,” Bugby says. “I think that last year we really tried to work more together as a team, having six people think together all at once. We’re trying to make every stroke count.”
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