Dean and Willoughby win 2021 Curley Memorial Canoe Race
OSCODA – Canoe racing is finally back; and Saturday’s 27th annual Curley Memorial Canoe Race certainly didn’t disappoint. Wes Dean, 26, of Grayling and Weston Willoughby, 30, of Traverse City managed to separate themselves from the field as the race wore on, giving them first place in a time of 2:26:27, in a race that is well known as a preview of the Consumers Energy AuSable River Canoe Marathon July 24-25.
“It feels pretty good, we got out to a great start and just focused on going good,” Willoughby said. “We had a couple guys hanging out with us for a bout half the race and we were able to get away and just focused on keeping it going good.”
This marks Willoughby’s third time winning the event, having previously won it with Mike Davis in 2017 and 2018.
“This is a pretty good indicator of how you’re going to do in the marathon, so doing as good as we did, I think we are really happy with our chances in the marathon to place well and hopefully we can put together a good race.”
For Dean, a well decorated canoe racer himself, this is his first win in the Curley.
“It feels great, it’s a great confidence booster and I feel like we are peaking at the right time,” Dean said. “(The water) is definitely up a little bit, in June it was pretty much the lowest I’ve ever seen it since I started racing 10 years ago. I’m pretty happy about the recent rain, it should make (the Marathon) a faster race.”
Dean also noted the fact that this was the first race in the area in nearly two years; after the COVID-19 pandemic caused races to be canceled in 2020 and early 2021.
“It feels amazing and I think everyone is just thankful to be out there,” he said. “Racing, I guess is something we took for granted and thought it was always going to be there and lats year taught us to appreciate it that much more.”
The race, which began at the embankment of Cooke Dam, began with paddlers going upstream, before rounding a buoy to return to the dam for the first portage of the race. From there paddlers reached Foote Dam, where they once again portage over.
Dean and Willoughby were neck-and-neck with two other paddlers at the second portage, but pushed the pace from there to claim their victory at Finish Line Park in downtown Oscoda, by well over a minute.
“That portage is pretty tough to get through, with the stairs getting out and stairs getting in,” Willoughby said. “We got a little separation there but we really kicked it in and once we got a little gap, we made it bigger and just tried to maintain our speed and keep it going and fortunately that worked out good for us.”