Late Friday evening, Jim Bennett and Seth Holden decided on a whim to enter the 24th annual Moose River canoe races, part of the Sterling Community Days celebration.
"I talked to Seth at around 10 last night, and we just decided to do it," Bennett said following the men's race.
The last-minute decision paid off handsomely for Bennett and Holden, who beat out second-place finishers Shawn Swaggert and Dennis Backstrom to win the men's race and take home the $300 winners' check.
Bennett said he and Holden relied on a not-so-scientific method in preparing for this year's race. Their secret?
"No planning and no training," Bennett joked.
Bennett's unplanned trip to the Moose was especially fortunate, as 45 minutes after finishing the men's race, he teamed with Sara Hepner to win the coed race, which also awarded $300 to the winners.
Jodie Dunham and Dawn Lesterson encourage racers as they near the finish line.
Photo by M. SCOTT MOON
"That was the easiest $300 I ever made," Bennett said.
Hepner had her own theory on Bennett's canoeing coup.
"We used (second-place finisher) Laura (Sievert)'s bent paddle," she said.
If Sievert was upset about helping out the competition, she didn't let it show. The Kenai Central High School Spanish teacher said she was just happy to be out on the water, enjoying the sunshine and getting a bit of exercise.
"We were paddling pretty hard," she said after stepping from her canoe with partner Roxanna Wilcox. "They just ran away with it."
Event volunteer Dawn Lesterson said she was happy with how the race turned out, despite the fact that just seven teams combined entered the two races.
"It was fun. We would have liked to have more people, but there's lots to do," she said.
The canoe races were held as part of the annual Moose River canoe races and raft parade, in conjunction with Sterling Community Days. Lesterson said some people may have been busy with the numerous other activities going on over at Sterling Elementary School, including games, vendors, music, bike races and a 10-kilometer run.
She said she was still holding out hope that the always-popular raft parade would draw a bigger crowd. With temperatures already approach-ing 70 degrees by 10 a.m., the chances for a good turnout for the raft parade were looking up.
"We've got about six entered now, but there could be a few at the last minute," she said.
Bennett said he was surprised at the small turnout. He said he'd like to see a few more competitors if he returns next year to defend his titles.
"If this was a running race, you'd have a thousand people entered," he said.
Despite being the day's big winner, Bennett's trip a half mile up the Moose and back wasn't without peril. As he stepped out of the canoe following the men's race, he stubbed his toe hard enough to draw blood.
"The things I do for sport," he said.
His partner Holden had little sympathy for his newly-rich friend.
"Injured in the line of duty," he said.
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