The Recorder – Final Blow For River Rat Race Safety Coordinator Thomas Lozier

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ATHOL — The 2022 River Rat Race on April 9 will be the last involving Thomas Lozier, concluding a decades-long run as director and safety coordinator of the beloved canoe race.

“It’s my last,” he said simply. “It’s just time.”

Lozier said he participated in the 5-mile canoe sprint from Athol to Orange from 1974 to 1984, when a lingering shoulder injury prevented him from racing as competitively as he would have wish. It was then that Ted Crumb, one of the longtime pillars of the race, asked him to get involved in the administration of the event.

“I jumped on board and it was one of the greatest things I’ve ever done,” the 64-year-old said this week. “I’ve met some great people along the way.”

Lozier said his main responsibility is to ensure the presence of Northfield’s dive and rescue team, which has served the race for more than 30 years. The 20-25 team members watch both sides of the bank of the Millers River for about the first half mile of the race, where the fierce paddling and positioning of competitors creates a chaotic situation that sometimes causes canoes to capsize .

“I can’t say enough about the dive team,” Lozier said, adding that the team works hand-in-hand with the Massachusetts State Police Underwater Recovery Unit.

Lozier said fire departments from Orange, Phillipston, Petersham, New Salem, Northfield and Royalston are also attending the race.

Northfield Dive and Rescue Team Leader Bill Ryan said Lozier was responsible for ensuring all boats and personnel were on the water so the team and firefighters could assist in the best of their abilities.

“Tom is a good man,” Ryan said. “We like to help her.”

The 2020 and 2021 races did not take place due to the COVID-19 pandemic, leading Lozier to postpone his retirement.

Ryan and Lozier acknowledged that the April 9 race would be a more solemn occasion due to Lozier’s impending departure and the December 2021 death of longtime race chairman David Flint. Lozier and Flint were lifelong friends, growing up together in Athol, and helped save the breed from possible extinction three decades ago.

“They were the backbone…of the River Rat Race for a very long time,” Ryan said.

The race will be held in memory of Flint.

“Davey was one of my closest friends. That one really hurt, when we lost him,” Lozier said. “It’s going to be bittersweet. He knew it was my last.

After this year’s event, Lozier will hand over the reins of safety coordinator to Jason Rushford, a firefighter on duty with the Orange Fire Department.

“I’m lucky,” Rushford said with a laugh, adding that he had “really big shoes to fill. Tommy knows this race inside and out. closer to what he does for the Rat Race.

“He could do it with his eyes closed. He’s amazing at it,” Rushford continued. “He knows the river like the back of his hand. It’s the best there is. »

Rushford, 40, said he had been involved in racing for 22 years, past the then captain. Mark Brennan interested him in working on a boat for the event when he joined the department.

“It’s great to see the energy and effort that participants put into the race,” he said, whether the paddlers are professional or competing for fun.

Sponsored by the Athol Lions Club, the 57th River Rat Race will begin at 1 p.m. on April 9. More information and a registration form are available at riverratrace.com.

“As far as what it means to me, it’s right there with Christmas. It’s an exciting time,” Lozier said. “As Ted Crumb used to say, ‘That’s the only thing that hits Athol.'”

Lozier and Rushford called the event the unofficial start of spring in the North Quabbin area.

Contact Domenic Poli at: [email protected] or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.

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