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. 

Canoe Winners“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.” 

Dean and Willoughby beat out a field of 38 paddlers in the Expert-1 Division, with Jorden Wakeley, 31, Grayling and Meersman 44, South Bend, IN were second in a time of 2:27:41. Mike Davis, 30, of Homer and Shane MacDowell, 33, Lake Placid, NY was third at 2:30:02, Pete Mead, 40, Traverse City and Carson Burmeister, 24, Grayling were fourth and in fifth was Kyle Mynar, 36, Spring Break, TX and Kyle Stonehouse, 27, Grayling, a former East Tawas resident in a time of 2:32:16. 

In sixth was Danny Medina, 27, Homer and Steve Watson, 49, Onaway in 2:34:02, Nick Walton, 48, Eaton Rapids and Matt Gabriel JR, 37 of Grayling was seventh at 2:34:05, in eighth was the team of Jason Hatfield, 43, Grayling and Colin Hunter, 40, Grayling at 2:35:38, Rich Lauth, 48, Grosse Ile and Mary Schlimmer, 30, Traverse City were ninth at 2:35:38 and Russ Reker, 57, Lapeer and Tad Hill, 43, Livonia finished 2:38:08 to come in 10th. 

In 11th was Austin Weiler, 29, Roscommon and Rebecca Davis, 31 Homer (2:39:21), placing 12th was Dave Teddy, 47, Dexter and Bill Torongo, 59, Grayling (2:40:42), 13th was Eric Batway, 58, Mike Bradford, 56, Lapeer (2:40:43), Jeff Kolka, 63, Grayling, Naomi Kolka, 25, Grayling placed 14th (2:42:07) and in 15th was Buzzy Hartman, 44, Grayling and Sean Casey, 42, Grayling (2:43:11). 

In 16th-through-20th was Rob Shadley, 37, Cass City and Joe Leusby, 37, Traverse City (2:43:12), Dough Dalman, 46, Coopersville, Brad Wilson, 39 Rockford (2:45:02), Zach Childs, 19, Bay City, Ryan Childs, 48, Bay City (2:46:50), Zach Cheney, 24, Livonia and Mike Garon, 63, Washington Twp. (2:47:51) and Jon Webb, 61, Oscoda and Sarah Webb, 60, Oscoda (2:48:11). 

Also competing, in 21st through 30th was  Fred Mills, 67, of Roscommon and Tim McClure, 63 of Roscommon, Chris Krey, 30, of Grayling and Sean Brabant, 31, of Roscommon, Kristi Treston, 27, of traverse City and Katie Treston, 32, of Traverse City, LJ Bourgeois, 44, Greenbush and Nicole Owens, 42, Frederic, Bruce Barton, 64, Homer, Cecili Bugge, 21, Buffalo Gap, TX, Nate Winkler, 49, Traverse City and Terry Curley, 61, East Tawas, Rod Elliott, 54, Grayling and Dwight Walker, 67, Marshall, Alan Putnam, Linden and Aaron Putnam, 37, Marlette, Roxanne Barton, 64, Homer and Virginia Condie, 42, Martindale, TX and Robert smith, 47, Grayling and Will Fowler, 29, Grayling. 

In 31st through 38th was Andy Weeks, 57, Battle Creek and Paddi Thornburg, 58, Athens, Maria Schilling, 48, Minneapolis, MN and Lynne Witte, 67, Cheboygan, Chris Ecker, 57, Grayling and Bill Mahaffy, Jr, 40 Grayling, William Dean, 62, Grayling and Lewis Madill, 62, Frederic, Josh Kellogg, 17, Montague, Mike Kellogg, 52, Montague, Chuck Hewitt, 62, Bay City and Jenna Briggs, 36, Bay City and Ketih Wojahn, 57, Tawas City and Jerry Killingbeck, 52, of East Tawas. 

In the expert two division, eight teams took part. Mickey Kimsel, 47, Bay City and Bryce Martin, 28, Kawkawlin took the top spot with a time of 3:01:14. In second was Jacob Cramer, 26, Pinconning and Matt Rudy, 26, Bay City and Vinnie Iler, 62, Oscoda and Rod Matthews, 66, Oscoda was third. In fourth-through-eighth was Brian Mundy, 48, Brimley and Diana Jurewicz, 58, Omer, David Hallison, 48, St. Clair and Jason Holton, 48, St. Clair, Kyle Schmidt, 26 Grayling and Travis VanDeCasteele, 24, Frederic, Chris Scully, 61, Lincoln and Ed Butler, 74, Glendale, AZ and Jerry Kellogg, 77 Morley and Lindy Kellogg, 48, Cedar. 

“It was absolutely great to see the racing again and we had a good preview of the marathon in two weeks,” event organizer Ryan Matthews said. “The top three teams in the Curley were battling neck-and-neck almost the whole length of the race. Wes and Weston are definitely creating a conversation about who is going to win the Marathon; they put themselves in the conversation for sure.” 

On Sunday, the C-1 portion of the Curley was held, where single competitors took to the AuSable River at Children’s Park to compete on a looped course. 

Danny Medina won this event with a time of 1:05:51, Ryan Halstead, 34, of Grayling was second at 1:05:52, Nick Walton was third at 1:06:08, Kyle Mynar was fourth at 1:06:10, Russ Reker, 57, Lapeer was fifth at 1:06:33, Jeff Kloka was sixth at 1:06:58, Shadley was seventh at 1:07:10, Tad Hill was eighth at 1:07:49, Austin Weiler was ninth at 1:08:14 and Buzzy Harton was 10th at 1:09:15. 

Kyle Stonehouse was 11th at 1:09:15, Bruce Barton was 13th at 1:11:11, LJ Bourgeois was 14th at 1:11:25, Terry Curley was 15th at 1:14:25, Dwight Walker was 16th at 1:15:31, Roxanne Barton was 17th at 1:15:42, Bruce Buchinger, 68, Mikado was 18th at 1:16:47, John Hollands, 68, Lakeport was 19th at 1:16:56 and in 20th was Nickie Owens at 1:17:12. 

From 21st-to-32nd, in finishing order was Cecili Bugge, Chase Matthews, 23, Jackson, Vinnie Eiler, Sarah Webb, Rick Gillings, 63, Prescott, Diana Jurewicz, Bryce Martin, Bob Bradford, 78, Lapeer, Laure Chapple, 74, Interlochen, Rick Ensley, Malcom McDougall, 70, Glennie and Bill Hill, 74, Grosse Ile. 


“It was almost a perfect weekend of racing,” Matthews said. “The weather was great, we had good racing and it was great to be around all the paddlers and hearing all the stories. It has been a long couple of years with the pandemic.”