Penobscot Nation team snaps O’Donald’s winning streak at three

By Bill Pearson
Staff Writer

    For the past three years, the O’Donald seven-person war canoe team has had a strangle hold on the Bob Darling Trophy. The team led by Rick and Renee O’Donald had their team’s name engraved on the trophy emblematic of the top-finishing canoe, but on April 27, the 41st Annual Kiwanis Piscataquis River Race crowned a new champion.

sp-winners-dc-po-18Observer photo/Bill Pearson 

    NEW CHAMPS — The four-person Penobscot Nation canoe team, from left, Ron Bomberger, Barry Dana, Lori Dana and Mark Ranco was the first canoe to cross the finish line on April 27 during the 41st annual Kiwanis Piscataquis River Race. The Penobscot Nation’s victory snapped a the three-year reign of the O’Donald family led seven-person war canoe as race champions.

    The four-person Penobscot Nation sponsored team with Mark Ranco, of Indian Island, along with former island resident Barry Dana, now of Solon, Lori Dana, of Solon, and Ron Bomberger, of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania ended the O’Donald’s reign by nipping the defending champs by seven seconds.
    The Penobscot Nation team was the first to cross the finish line of the 9.5-mile river race starting at King Cummings Park in Guilford and ending across the street from Foxcroft Academy. The first kayaker to finish was Karen Francoeur, of Orono, with a 58:04 time. As the first kayak and canoe to finish, the winners are honored by having their names placed on the trophy.
    Darling served as race chairman when it began in 1972. The race is a major fund-raising event for the Dover-Foxcroft Kiwanis.The event has collected over $300,000 for the local Kiwanis projects since its inception.
    Like past races, the event attracted a large field. One hundred eighty-eight competitors manned 65 boats to compete in the 17 contested race categories. The Kiwanis annual race is not as long or treacherous as the more famous Kenduskeag Stream Race, but the Piscataquis field attracts a large cross-section of canoe enthusiasts looking for some healthy competition.
    “For us winning is part of the fun,” said Penobscot Nation team skipper Ranco. “It was also a time for us to enjoy the early, warm spring weather and spend time with some good friends.”
    For others spring canoe racing is an annual ritual which connects one family generation to the next. Cliff Littlefield, of Morrill, has competed in the Kiwanis race several times with his older family members in the past 41 years. This year, it was his turn to indoctrinate a new Littlefield in what has become a shared family experience.
    “This is my son, Tommy, he’s 8 years old and this is his first time in a canoe race,” Litttlefield said. “My family has a long tradition of participating in this race and now I want my son to experience it too.”
    The father-and-son team took first place in the Recreational Junior/Senior category. The Littlefields posted a 1:03:09 time defeating six other competitors. This may have been young Tommy’s first race, but he has had experience in a canoe.
    “Last night, my dad took me out in the canoe and taught me about paddling,” said Tommy.
    The race is also a chance for friends to bond while battling the fast river currents. Hannah Rubin, of Bangor, competed in the Kenduskeag Stream, race on April 20 with her family. She enjoyed the experience so much she decided to enter in the Kiwanis race with her high school classmate Katherine Nagle.
    “It was a great experience and I wanted to take part in another race,” Rubin said. “So I asked Kaitlin to join me. I found out how challenging canoe racing can be last week. We tipped over at Six Mile Falls so staying in the canoe for the entire race is our main objective.”
    Rubin and Nagle managed to finish the race without tipping over. The duo placed third in the Challenge Key Club/High School category.

sp-riverrace1-dc-po-18Observer photo/Bill Pearson

    RACE TIME — Hannah Rubin and Kaitlyn Nagle prepare their canoe for a 9.5 mile trip down the Piscataquis River on April 27 prior to the 41st annual Kiwanis Piscataquis River Race.

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