For coverage of the Pole Pedal Paddle and results, see:

Sports, B1

Spectators leaned over a footbridge in Bend’s Old Mill District, ringing cowbells and cheering on competitors making their way to the finish line of the SELCO Pole Pedal Paddle.

About 2,100 people competed Saturday, individually or as part of a team, on the 34-mile course from Mount Bachelor to the Les Schwab Amphitheater.

The 43rd annual race is a signature event for Bend, where it is possible to ski, bike, run and paddle all on the same day.

It draws serious athletes and lighthearted competitors alike. On Saturday, they skied through the snow, dressed in fleece, traded knit caps for bicycle helmets and finished on foot in tank tops or tutus. Some wore butterfly wings. One couple kayaked with a “Just Married” sign — he wore a black coat and top hat; she wore a white veil.

Bronwyn Spark, who is visiting Bend from her home at Bells Beach in Victoria, Australia, sat on the Old Mill District footbridge to support her daughter, Laura Flood, who was competing solo in the race for the first time.

Spark sat with her granddaughter, Jasper Flood, 3, who waited patiently to watch her mother kayak under the bridge. Spark enjoyed the energy of the day with the river full of kayakers and friends and family eagerly watching them paddle by.

“I just think it’s such a great fun event,” Spark said. “It’s a wonderful way for the community to wind up for the season.”

The individual racers, like Flood, were the first to finish at the event.

By the afternoon, the teams — some dressed in costumes — made it to the finish line.

Three members of the team from the Knife River construction firm waited in the Les Schwab Amphitheater for their turn in the final legs of the event — kayaking and running to the finish line. Team members Sarah Stevens, Kiri Seaton and Briana Milhoan each wore orange wigs and tutus to show their team pride.

They said their goal was just to have fun and cross the finish line. They didn’t care when.

“We are not here to place,” Stevens said. “We are just here to get it done.”

The Pole Pedal Paddle was a first for some competitors.

Pete Smith, who moved from Vermont to Bend in September, gave the event a try Saturday and wound up finishing second in his category with a time of 2 hours and 32 minutes.

Smith, who often skied while living in Vermont, said the conditions at Mt. Bachelor were ideal.

“Really good snow,” he said. “It was perfect.”

Smith had plenty of support during the race. His girlfriend, Caroline Gilbert, a nurse at St. Charles Bend, watched the event with two co-workers. They held signs that read, “Go Pete Go.”

As nurses, Smith’s supporters joked they were there to make sure he was alive at the end of the race.

While it was Smith’s first experience at the Pole Pedal Paddle, others brought years of experience to the event.

One of the elite individual racers hit a special milestone, finishing the race for the 15th year in a row.

Bend resident Kevin Brown completed the race in 2 hours and 23 seconds, earning a fifth-place finish in the elite male category.

Brown is a Bend native and an avid cross-country skier and runner, said his wife, Laura Brown.

Laura Brown, who also competed this year on a team with co-workers at Orangetheory Fitness, said they have developed a set plan each year. They can count on family members helping them at the transition points for skiing, biking and paddling.

“It’s a family affair, and we all know our roles,” Laura Brown said. “It’s all pretty well dialed in after this much time.”

Saturday was a big day for the Brown family. All the training hours Kevin Brown put in to prepare for the race paid off.

“He loves doing it and putting in the work,” Laura Brown said.

— Reporter: 541-617-7820, kspurr@bendbulletin.com

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