One aspect about kayaking that appeals to West Olive’s Billy Bellinger is the camaraderie involved in the sport and the genuine acts of sportsmanship often shared.
It was on display during Saturday’s fourth-annual Grand River Kayak Race near Stearn’s Bayou in Robinson Township.
During the eight-mile open division, Grand Haven’s Tim Gallaway was in second place, but had slowed down considerably in the later stage of the race.
“Tim figured he had weeds on his rudder,” said Bellinger, who was running first. “Jon Holms (another West Michigan kayaker) was just behind him and caught up with Tim. That’s when Tim turned to Jon and asked if he could help clear the weeds from his runner. Without Jon’s help, Tim would’ve had to deliberately capsize, swim to the back of his boat to clear the weeds and then get back in. This easily would have took 40-50 second if Tim was quick.”
But Holms stopped his paddling, got alongside Gallaway’s boat, reached under and cleared the weeds. Gallaway, who was in the faster kayak, continued to lead over Holms.
“How cool is that?” Bellinger said. “You would stop to help your competitor beat you because he asked. Jon displayed incredible sportsmanship and character.”
“These small acts of kindness, support, new friendships and camaraderie is what started this race and will continue to grow the racing community,” said race director Karen Chapel.
That type of message was passed on down the ranks, as the event featured an increase of participants in not only the eight-mile race, but in the youth divisions.
Bellinger held onto his lead to take the open division title and was awarded a unique paddle trophy for his achievement. He completed the course on the Grand River in 1 hour, 7 minutes, 40 seconds. The women’s top finisher was Heather Sellon of Coopersville (2:01.24), who also received a paddle trophy.
The youth solo division went to Hannah Landman of Grand Haven, while Chloe Hartman, joined by her father Rob Hartman of Holland, won the tandem division.
The three-mile amateur division went to Eric Haas of Holland (34:01) while Grand Haven’s Jill Landman was the top female finisher (40:48).