For the past two decades, whenever the Consumers Energy Ausable River Canoe Marathon is brought up, one name consistently stands out – Nate Winkler. As an employee of the Conservation Resource Alliance, Nate not only protects and restores Michigan’s rivers, but races in them!
Nate has completed the grueling race not once, not twice, but a mind blowing twenty times! With such a remarkable feat, he has earned the prestigious “Steel Paddler” award, which is a testament to his endurance and dedication.
The Ausable Rive Marathon is not for the faint of heart. To achieve the “Steel Paddler” status, one must complete 20 marathons successfully, regardless of how many starts they may have had, as long as they crossed the finish line. Nate’s determination and passion for the sport have propelled him to join an elite group of only fifteen other paddlers who have earned this esteemed title.
Nate’s journey in the marathon canoe racing world began in 2001 when he participated in his first race at the age of 29. From then on, Nate fell in love with the race, showcasing an incredible 18-year streak of consecutive finishes. This achievement places him tied for second with Lynne Witte, shy of the record holder, Mike Garon, with an astonishing 24 consecutive finishes.
Over the years, Nate has partnered with various individuals, proving his versatility and adaptability as a paddler. Each marathon brought a new challenge and a different teammate, demonstrating his willingness to embrace change and push the limits of his abilities.
One can’t talk about Nate’s racing without acknowledging some of his outstanding accomplishments. His highest placement in the marathon is an impressive 28th place, and he achieved his fastest time, completing the grueling 120-mile course in 16 hours and 17 minutes. To put this in perspective, participants must finish the race in under 19 hours and beat several cut-off times throughout the journey to earn an official finish.
The 75th running of the Ausable River Canoe Marathon saw a record number of teams, with 110 total from the US, Canada, Australia, Germany, and even Belize represented. This year, Nate teamed up with Pam Fitzgerald, a talented paddler from Scotia, New York. Despite facing adversity during the race, including a clothes-lining incident and a serious back injury sustained by Pam during a portage, they persevered and completed the race in an impressive time of 17 hours, 57 minutes, and 16 seconds, securing the 82nd position.
The marathon’s demanding course includes six dam portages, and the most technical part of the race is navigated in darkness. Paddlers maintain a stroke rate varying between 60 and 90 strokes per minute, with an average of around 70-75 strokes per minute, testing their endurance and technique throughout the course.
Nate Winkler’s journey in the Ausable River Canoe Marathon serves as an inspiration to paddlers and outdoor enthusiasts alike. His dedication, perseverance, and love for the sport have earned him a well-deserved place among the marathon canoe racing icons. As he continues to make his mark in the paddling community, we look forward to witnessing more remarkable achievements from our very own Nate Winkler!