Hundreds of fierce competitors, paddles in hand and game-faces on, arrived at Mount St. Mary Park in St. Charles on Sunday, eager to show what they could do out on the Fox River.
Of course, also on hand were those people looking for a boating experience that was a little less intense.
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"We're in the noncompete group," said a smiling Michelle Wilson of Highland Park. "So for us, it's just about the fun of being on the river, and the Fox River is a great setting for this."
Wilson was one of the participants in the 53rd annual Mid-American Canoe and Kayak Race, a signature summer event organized by the Aurora-based Fox Valley Park District,
The race brings paddlers from all over the area together to compete in either 10-mile or 6-mile races on the scenic Fox River. The 10-mile race launched from Mount St. Mary Park, and the 6-mile race launched from a spot near Route 25 in Batavia, at the local VFW Post. All ended at McCullough Park in Aurora, where a post-race party was held.
Wilson participated Sunday with fellow kayakers Joe Catella of Highland Park and Anthony Bentivegna of Evanston. It was the second time in the Mid-American race for Wilson and Catella, and the first for Bentivegna.
"I feel great about it," Bentivegna said. "This is the perfect thing to do on a sunny day like this. I'd probably just be wasting it away otherwise."
Wally Werderich of Yorkville, a veteran paddler who has participated in the event for more than 20 years, said Sunday's race was special because it was the first in which he would be joined by his 9-year-old son, George.
"I'm looking forward to it -- I hope he is, too!" he said.
As he has done for the past seven years or so, Werderich arrived Sunday dressed in a red-and-blue costume that made him look like a lucha libre wrestler. (His boat was painted with the phrase "Los Humungos Paddleos.")
"It's an extra bit of fun I like to add," he said.
Laureen Baumgartner, a representative of the Fox Valley Park District, said the race is popular because it caters equally to both experienced racers and casual fans.
"You see all kinds of people entering, including families with little children," she said. "That's part of what keeps this event going."