Paddling with purpose |

Paddling with purpose

summit daily news
Summit County, Colorado
Summit Daily/Mark Fox

FARMER’S KORNER – It was probably just a bad time to be asked the question, but as Joe Sialiano got ready for a training session Thursday he had a hard time coming up with a reason as to what makes competitive rafting enjoyable.

“Is there anything fun about it? No,” he said with a laugh.

The longtime Summit County resident and the other three members of the U.S. Whitewater Raft Team had already gone through a full workout in the gym Thursday, before they prepared to launch their boat at Farmer’s Korner for some interval training on Dillon Reservoir.

“Some days it’s both (lifting and paddling), and it’s pretty painful,” Sialiano, 31, said. “I mean, after just three minutes of sitting in this boat paddling, you feel like you could be in tears. It’s just training hard, paddling hard, and who wins the races are the people that train the hardest.”

And that’s what they hope to do – not just train, but take their team (and sport) to the next level.

Technically, the squad at Farmer’s Korner on Thursday would be the U.S. “B” team, as most of the paddlers are either the alternates for the American four-man squad or on the six-man crew.

Either way, being among the top paddlers in the country, all of them feel the obligation to help grow their sport out of obscurity.

“We’re trying to turn on as many people as possible to it, because most people don’t know anything about it,” team member and fellow Summit resident Ron Burke said.

“The sport has as much excitement as snowboarding or skiing,” Sialiano added. “It has all the elements of endurance and everything else.”

Rafting competitions generally consist of three disciplines – sprint, slalom and downriver – and the U.S. team will take part in a number of events this summer.

The squad will be in Buena Vista on May 31 for CKS Paddlefest, along with four other races throughout the state, as part of the inaugural Rocky Mountain Whitewater Series, which both Burke and Sialiano said is a big step to raise the profile of the sport.

The team will also compete as four, two-man teams in the Teva Mountain Games and in the World Rafting Championships in the Netherlands in June.

But, in order to prepare for the full slate of races, the team needed to get in shape. Easier said than done in a county where ice and snow cover the streams for much of the winter and spring.

So, the team hit the waters – of the Breckenridge Recreation Center.

In Breck, the team has been doing resistance training in the in-door pool, tying the raft to bands and paddling.

Recently, they’ve been able to get out onto the open water of the reservoir and even hit up some local streams.

“We’ve been doing as much as we can,” said Thatcher Bean, a member of the squad from Eagle County.

Unlike most national teams – or most sports, for that matter – the U.S. Whitewater Raft Team gets all its funding either from sponsorships, fundraising or out of team members’ shallow pockets.

Most of the team works as recreational rafting tour guides and pick up odd jobs whenever possible.

That doesn’t make things easy, especially when some other countries are able to provide the means for their athletes to train and compete full time, year-round.

“The guys do this as their jobs,” Eagle County’s Jordan Kurt-Mason said of some other national teams. “Here, it’s a bunch of rec guides and construction (workers) that meet whenever they can.”

And that’s why the team was back out at Farmer’s Korner on Thursday, ready for a full trek across the reservoir to the bay in Dillon.

“It’s one of the only sports with no breaks. The river always keeps on going,” Bean said.

They all hope that more people will be getting into their sport really soon. That’s why they work so hard promoting it; that’s one of the things they get out of the countless hours of training.

And, someday, they all hope, their sport will become what they feel it can be.

For now, though, they’ll settle on making it across to the Tiki Bar.

Bryce Evans can be reached at (970) 668-4634 or at

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