They’re not middle-aged crazy. In fact, a good number of the Northern New York Paddlers have passed that stage of their lives.
But roughly a dozen of them faithfully gather midweek at the Aqueduct Road boathouse from May until September to keep a tradition, the Wednesday evening time trial, going.
“I started in the Towpath Regatta race 40 years ago with a friend I worked with,” said Roger Henry, at 72 an original member of the group that started racing in the four-mile time trial. “He was interested in canoeing, and he wanted to try a race. I got the bug, and I’ve been doing it ever since.”
Ballston Lake resident Alec Davis started the time trial in 1992 upon returning to the Schenectady area from Skaneateles, where he worked in the banking industry.
“When I was in Skaneateles, there was a fairly active group of canoers in the Syracuse area. I don’t know who started it, but it was a Wednesday night time trial,” said the 74-year-old Davis, who is a frequent partner of Henry’s in two-man events.
“I left the bank in the middle of 1991, moved back here, and there was no time trial here.”
Davis quickly organized a similar event on the Mohawk River.
“The Northern New York Paddlers were willing to sponsor it, I said I’d run it,” he said. “We’ve been going now every Wednesday night since 1992.”
Bob Cooley and his wife, Linda, are regulars at the trials, which most rowers use as a workout to prepare for longer weekend races.
“My wife and I have been paddling together for 41 years now,” said Cooley, 66. “I started in white water in 1973 and as I got older, I migrated more and more into marathon canoeing.”
Davis took up the sport after competing in triathlons.
“I saw some racing canoes when I did a triathlon in Auburn,” he said. “I was paddling with another local fellow I used to run with and bike with. I saw these canoes that looked different. We started doing some paddling. When I moved back here, I just continued.”
The sport also gives the NNYP members a way to stay active without a lot of wear and tear on their bodies.
“You can go forever, and it doesn’t beat you up,“ Cooley said. “Running, your back and knees eventually give out. People padding in their 70s is pretty common.”
“As long as you keep at it, you can do it as long as you want,” noted Henry, one of the club members who is training for a 120-mile race in Michigan.
“Running, once you get past your 30s, you’re not going to be competitive,” admitted Davis. “Canoeing, you can be pretty competitive in your 50s.
“It was getting harder to run, The knees hurt. Both my knees have been replaced, one two months ago. I can canoe, but I can’t run.”
The paddlers have also had to adapt to changes in equipment.
“We started with wooden paddles that weighed two or three pounds. Now they’re a few ounces, and they’re carbon,” Cooley said. “Our boats were fiberglass. Now, they’re carbon.”
While the equipment has changed, a lot of the faces have remained constant.
“We’ve been getting some new people, but it’s been a lot of the same people through the years,” said Henry, who lives in Rexford, practically within sight of the course.
“It’s a small group. We help each other out,” Cooley said. “If someone tips over, we all stop and help pick them up. We coach each other. It’s a very collegial group.”
“It’s probably been about this number all the time,” Davis pointed out. “We’ll run six to 10 boats. Sometimes, it’s as few as four.
“I’d say everybody here knows everybody else. It’s not a huge sport. People tend to know each other, and new people tend to get welcomed.”