River Race serves as reunion for some

Hundreds of race enthusiasts spilled into Marlinton Saturday for the 33rd annual Great Greenbrier River Race. Below, Ryan Longenette, of Scott Depot, was joined by his dog for the full event, running and riding along in the kayak and being towed behind Longenette’s bike. Above, cyclists get a last rush of momentum as they enter Marlinton in the final mile of the race. S. Stewart photos

Suzanne Stewart
Staff Writer

In the past 33 years, the Great Greenbrier River Race has attracted hundreds of individuals and groups to participate in its one-of-a-kind triathlon of running, kayaking and biking. Participants return for many different reasons – it’s fun, it’s unique, it’s challenging or maybe just a time to to get together with friends and family.

The race attracts people from all over the country, but it also brings some folks back home to compete and reconnect.

Pocahontas County High School alumni of all ages return to pit themselves against friends or to just have fun in their home county.

Long-time friends and Class of 1984 graduates Tim Helmick and J.D. Winston competed on a team with Helmick’s son and were excited to see old friends and leave them in the dust once the race began.

“This is my first [River Race],” Winston said. “He talked me into it. I said, ‘I’m not running; I’ll bike or kayak.’”

“I thought he’d find it fun,” Helmick said. “It’s a chance to see some old friends and just enjoy the crowd and the atmosphere.”

“And he thought I needed the exercise,” Winston interjected, laughing.

Helmick lives in Lewisburg and Winston lives in Roanoke, Virginia, but they manage to stay in touch and knew the River Race would be a fun way to have an impromptu reunion and stay competitive.

“He’s been talking trash already,” Winston said.

“Just to the ones I know I can talk it to,” Helmick explained.

Green Bank native Caroline McKean, now of Lynchburg, Virginia, said that prior to the race she was able to see friends she hadn’t seen since she graduated in 2004.

“Mindy Sharp came and gave me a big hug,” she said. “It was so cool to see her.”

This is McKean’s third year to participate in the race and she brought along her college roommate to experience the race and meet her high school friends.

“Justine [Pagenhardt] has heard about all these people and now she’s meeting them,” McKean said. “She asked me to join her in the race and I was like, ‘absolutely.’ I’ve biked and I’ve done the canoe, but I’ve never run before, so I’m running this year.”

The race is also a family affair – a great way for members to work together or against one another.

Melissa and Michelle Murphy were known for their abilities as high school basketball and track stars, and they continue to compete as runners in marathons and other races. Although they were teammates in high school, they now like to compete against each other and see who comes out on top.

“I’ve always loved running and to be competitive,” Melissa said.

“Melissa would never let me beat her,” Michelle said. “You just always know that she’s going to be first, I always tell people she would drop dead before she’d let me pass her. That’s how competitive she is. I like competitiveness. This is something you can do with a team, but still be an individual. That’s what I like about this race.”

Both girls, who graduated in 2016, were the runners for their teams, so they found themselves facing off in the same leg of the race.

The Rittenhouse brothers and their cousin also enjoy the race. This year, Nathan and Ben competed, while brother Abe sat it out.

“This will be the fourth year we’ve done it as a unit together,” Ben said. “We really enjoy the team aspect. It’s a lot of fun – just the camaraderie with that. It’s a fun event for us. We enjoy it every year and look forward to it. Our cousin comes down and it becomes a little reunion.”

Ben sticks with the kayaking portion of the race, while one of his brothers takes on the running, leaving the biking for their cousin.

One PCHS alum has managed to participate in the race for nearly two decades, beginning in high school and missing only one year since 1997. Kellyn Cassell, now of Apex, North Carolina, said he usually competes on a team and has only done the race solo three times.

Cassell has a close connection with the race – his mother, Brenda Cochran, is one of the coordinators – and has used the race as a way to reconnect with friends from school, as well as a family tradition with his own children.

“This is the first year I’m doing the race with both of my daughters,” he said.

Cassell also tried to recruit participants for his race – the Greenbrier River Trail Marathon – which he coordinated last year. The race will be in the fall and has already attracted a large number of locals. Maybe it, too, will become another reunion.

During the race warm up and meeting, the coordinators paid tribute to two former race participants who passed since last year’s race. Mike Stennes and Chally Erb were honored with memorial posters signed by fellow racers.

Race results are as follows:

Female – first place, Becca Warnick, of Charleston; second place, Meghan Fisher, of Fayetteville; and third place, Allison Blanton, of Charleston.

Male – first place, William Blake, of Scott Depot; second place, Andrew Rose, of Glen Allen, Virginia; and third place, Michael Byers, of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Female 16 and under – first place, Alexa Bostic, of Charleston; second place, Nola Todd, of Charleston; and third place, Abigail Rose, of Glen Allen, Virginia.

Male 16 and under – first place, Samuel Rinehart, Strasburg, Virginia; and second place, Cooper Warnick, of Scott Depot.

Female Masters – first place, Edna Spang, of Gibsonia, Pennsylvania; second place, Anita Swanson, of Fayetteville; and third place, Kim Lucas, of West Newton, Pennsylvania.

Male Masters – first place, Kevin Slack, of Hurricane; second place, Ray Legge, of Winchester, Virginia; and third place, Doug Falls, of Roanoke, Virginia.

Female Senior Masters – first place, Lynne Ryan, of Maidsville; second place, Kristin Dunham, of Gans, Pennsylvania; and third place, Susan Chappell, of Marlinton.

Male Senior Masters – first place, David Novak, of Derry, Pennsylvania; second place, Jim Williams, of Winston-Salem, North Carolina; and third place, Phil Pickett, of Blacksburg, Virginia.

Male Relay Team – first place, Sunny Hot Dogs; second place, Appalachian Thunder; and third place, Digital Relativity.

Female Relay Team – first place, Fab Friends Here to Slay; second place, Wonder Twins; and third place, South Branch River Pirates.

Coed Relay Team – first place, Blue Ridge Pacemakers; second place, The River Rogues; and third place, Booth, Grove, Lehman.

Family Relay Team – first place, Friends in Mallow Places; second place, Blue Sulphur Gang; and third place, Team Kirk.

Masters Relay Team – first place, Faster than We Look; second place, Losing R Marbles Together; and third place, Otter’s Pod.

Senior Relay Team – first place, Off Your Rockers.

For a complete list of results, visit www.tristarteracer.com

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