Around the same time every June, brothers Pete and Daryl Simon spend a little over an hour and a half (give or take) trying to chase down family in the Mid-American Canoe & Kayak Race.
It’s been a five-decade pursuit.
“We’ve been beaten by brother Dave, brother Rob, and my son Michael,” says Pete Simon, 64, of Plainfield. “And every year brother Daryl will say the mindset is to beat brother Dave and whoever he’s racing with. However, we haven’t done that … ever!”
Another chance awaits on Saturday, June 3, when the 2023 edition of the Mid-American Canoe & Kayak Race is scheduled to return to the Fox River. Featuring multiple divisions with two course lengths, race officials at the Fox Valley Park District opted to move the race to Saturday for the first time in its storied history. The decision was made based on participant feedback, said J.D. Ostergaard, facility manager at Prisco Community Center and Mid-Am coordinator.
“We asked through a survey and results indicated that moving the race to Saturday might attract the opportunity for more people to participate,” Ostergaard said. “The feedback makes sense because there are so many options within the community for residents to engage, which is awesome. We felt that moving our race to Saturday morning would be a great way for families to jump-start their weekend.”
The ’23 Mid-Am features divisions suited for all ages and experience levels that can be run from starting points in St. Charles (10 miles) or Batavia (6 miles). Heats begin at 9 a.m. in St. Charles and 10:30 a.m. in Batavia. Divisions for paddlers who require canoe or kayak rental are included and participants must register online at https://www.foxvalleyparkdistrict.org/event/mid-american-canoe-kayak-race. The registration deadline is 9 a.m. on Wednesday, May 31.
The finish line for both courses is staged just beyond the Illinois Avenue bridge in Aurora, and a post-race lunch celebration will be held at McCullough Park. Non-competitors of the race can purchase a $20 ticket that includes lunch in the park and a race t-shirt.
Following a four-year absence due to dangerous water levels and pandemic restrictions – two years each, respectively – the Mid-Am returned in 2022 with more than 300 paddlers.
“The weather was perfect, and the excitement level was top-notch and so fun to see,” Ostergaard says. “The Mid-Am is a tradition that spans generations and last year’s smiles and energy were good indicators of how much it was missed for those few years.”
Karl Teske, 74, of North Aurora, has been racing since his teens when the Mid-Am became one of the Fox Valley’s most popular early-summer traditions shortly after the first race in 1961. An avid paddler with armfuls of first-place medals earned through the years, Karl has competed in every Mid-Am since 2001. For the past handful of races (predating the four-year absence), Karl has competed in the long course from St. Charles with son Matthew, 39, before doubling back upriver and teaming with son Michael, 50, to run the short-course from Batavia.
“I’m a very competitive person to begin with and I can hold my own with people a lot younger than I am,” Karl Teske says. “At the same time, because it’s right here in the area, I like going out with my sons. It’s the only race they’ll get in because that’s ‘the fun one.’
“My daughter and her three kids meet us at the portages with signs that say, ‘Go, Grandpa!’”
The brainchild of former local outdoors writer Bob White, the Mid-Am has evolved through the years from a format perspective, but the community spirit remains as it was originally intended.
“All the boats, all the people, food in the park at the end,” says Pete Simon, summing up the Mid-Am. “It’s a family thing. You get family cheering for you on the bridges and sometimes you’ve got family in the boat just drifting down the river. What more could you ask for?”
For more information or to register for the Mid-American Canoe & Kayak Race, visit https://www.foxvalleyparkdistrict.org/event/mid-american-canoe-kayak-race/.