Montague golfer and softball player Natalie Kellogg, 17, is starting her freshman year of high school in weeks, but she’s already put herself through a more grueling and physical ordeal than most of us will ever face. .
Kellogg and his dad, Mike, teamed up for a nighttime endurance battle July 24-25 by completing the AuSable River Canoe Marathon, one of three races considered the sport of racing’s triple crown. canoe. The others are the General Clinton Canoe Regatta, a 70-mile Memorial Day race on New York’s Susquehanna River, and La Classique Internationale de Canots de La Maurice, a three-day Labor Day weekend race in New York. Quebec. Mike said he and Natalie wanted to complete all three races one day. (Races outside of the Triple Crown are generally much shorter, Mike said, ranging from eight to 25 miles in length.)
The Kelloggs finished 70th overall out of 83 entries in the AuSable race, 12th of 13 in the mixed team category, with a time of 17 hours, 40 minutes and 56 seconds.
The race consisted of 120 miles of nearly uninterrupted paddling from Grayling to Oscoda, with breaks taken only to port six different dams. The only times Natalie stopped was when the incredible stress of the evening – and the foggy conditions on the river – left her dizzy, nauseous and vomiting.
But she and her father succeeded.
“It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my entire life,” Natalie said. “One thing I took away from the race is that I’m much more aware of my strengths. I can do so much more than my mind tells me I can. You just have to move on and you can do a lot more than you think.”
Canoe racing is actually a Kellogg family tradition. Mike said Natalie is the fourth generation of the family to participate in the sport and Kelloggs have been racing since 1947. Mike’s father Jerry, who finished the AuSable race four times, was at the finish line to cheer on the triumph of his son and his granddaughter. .
The marathon is a night race, so it starts at 9pm in Grayling with a start from Le Mans, which sees the runners pick up their boats and carry them through the water, jumping into the boat in the process; videos of the high octane start are available online.
Due to the nature of the race, a support team follows each duo to provide essentials and be there in case of health concerns. For the Kelloggs, the support team consisted of Mike’s wife, Tressa, two of his sisters and a cousin. Every 90 minutes or so, the Kelloggs would meet the support crew on the river for fresh water, food, a change of shirt if needed, or any other need. They were also there for Natalie when the vertigo hit.
Mike has only been racing for four years, but it didn’t take long to get Natalie into the sport as well. She said she was inspired to start doing it after hearing about other successful runners, including Rebecca Davis, who Natalie says also comes from a running family. Davis, who is from Homer and in her early thirties, was particularly inspirational to Kellogg.
“Not all amazing paddlers look super muscular,” Kellogg said. “It’s really a question of technique and mental strength. Rebecca Davis is one of the best paddlers in the world, and the amazing thing about her is that she’s not as strong as other male paddlers, but she competes in the same competitions as them and beats them. . It’s amazing and it’s something I want to aspire to.
With Davis as a role model, Natalie followed Mike into canoe racing a few years ago and quickly impressed Mike with her mental toughness. Participating in Mio’s ‘First Dam’ canoe race at age 15 with a 13-year-old friend named Katie, Natalie persevered for three and a half hours in pouring rain so torrential that ‘you could barely tell where the current was. in the river,” Mike said. Natalie and Katie were the last to finish, having had to throw the canoe out at times because of the rain.
Yet when the duo came to the finish line, Mike said “they were just smiles”. At the end of the year, Natalie and Mike were competing, separately and together, in the US Canoe Association national meet on the Allegheny River in Pennsylvania.
The 2020 canoe/kayak season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as preparation for the 2021 AuSable race ramped up, Natalie was sure she wanted to do it. She was also sure she wanted to run alongside her father.
“After seeing my dad do it, I honestly knew I wanted to do it,” Natalie said. “Every time I imagined myself doing it, I saw myself doing it with my dad. I knew it was something he always wanted us to do together.
Of course, training together was difficult to arrange as Mike has a day job as an operations supervisor at the Grand Haven Board of Light and Power and Natalie had school and other sports. However, the duo took it easy, spending an hour or two on a river almost every night. Trips to the Muskegon River, White River, White Lake, Pentwater River, “anything that could change,” Mike said, were common. Longer weekend and night training — at one point they ran the first third of the marathon course, which lasted more than six hours — prepared them for the AuSable race.
It was after passing that familiar first third, Natalie said, that she began to struggle with dizziness and vomiting. Before that, “we were having a great race”.
Thanks to her determination and with the support of her father in the boat, Natalie managed to persevere, and the experience only fueled her desire to do better next time.
“He was there for me when I was throwing up on the playoff,” Natalie said of her dad. “We both understood each other’s pain. We knew how the other felt. It would have been hard to finish if we hadn’t been together.
“Honestly, we weren’t as worried about our time this year. Our main goal was to finish. In the future, I definitely want (better) our time. We want to finish in less than 17 hours next year.
Despite the difficulties, the Kelloggs worked very well as a team. Things went awry at one point around the 10 hour race mark as boat traffic and choppy waters resulted in foot high waves. Some surrounding boats overturned in the water and teams retired due to the conditions, but Natalie and Mike clicked well enough as a duo to navigate those difficulties as well.
“We actually fit into the boat really well,” Mike said. “To find a partner to communicate with and go down the river, it doesn’t happen often. The paddling streak together you must be so solid.
The Kelloggs’ time may not have been what they wanted, but Natalie earned the respect of her fellow runners by finishing the marathon, Mike said.
“She gained so much credibility with the community just to be able to finish this race,” Mike said. “It’s a feat anyway, but to do it at 17, there are few paddlers that age who will even attempt it. He establishes that she can do anything if she puts her mind to it.
“It’s (like) the tortoise and the hare. Even if you’re not the fastest, you keep going and you’ll get good results at the back.
The paddling community is part of what keeps the Kelloggs coming back. Much like endurance athletes in other sports, the atmosphere largely revolves around supporting and encouraging each other more than hardcore competition at all costs.
“I haven’t been a part of it that long, but it’s a great community to be a part of, and anyone who wants to try canoe racing should definitely do so,” Natalie said. “Any paddler will help you.”
The Kelloggs certainly plan to be part of the racing community for a long time to come. Mike said that before the pandemic hit, he and another running partner intended to take part in the 2020 Massive Murray Paddle, a five-day marathon in Australia that will take place over Thanksgiving week this year. . Natalie was to be part of their crew last year; now he and Natalie have it on their competition roster.
Once the golf season begins, Natalie will focus on helping Montague defend his state championship. (She said coach Phil Kerr is very encouraging about her canoeing achievements, even if it keeps her from following the course as much as she would like.) But she’ll be ready to go when the time comes. to get back in the water – and like her dad, she wants to make it through each of the three biggest races.
“After finishing the marathon, I had this thought, what should I do next?” said Natalie. “I love the sport so much, and I have so much fun doing it and I have so many people cheering me on. It’s hard not wanting to do it all. One of my main goals at the future is to complete my Triple Crown.