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Move over, traditional triathlon; Greenway Challenge is something different.

Byline: Amy Corneliussen

UXBRIDGE - If an ordinary triathlon is no longer enough for you, with its predictable legs of running, biking and swimming, how about an adventure relay race with mountain and street biking, trail and street running, and river kayaking?

The UniBank Blackstone River Valley Greenway Challenge entices teams and individuals to explore the area's geography and recreation opportunities as they run, bike and paddle their way from Rhode Island to the Worcester area along a different course each year.

This year, the 12th annual Greenway Challenge will be held Sept. 29, starting with a trail run in Diamond Hill Park in Cumberland, R.I., and ending 46.5 miles later with a kayak paddle on the Blackstone River Canal to River Bend Farm in Uxbridge.

Part of the adventure is getting the athletes and equipment to the correct starting points to begin each of the seven segments of the relay, explained race founder and organizer Barbara Dixon.

With the racecourse a closely held secret until just two weeks before the race, athletes and support teams are left with a small window of time to get to know the course and plan logistics.

But that's part of the Greenway Challenge's allure that draws hundreds of serious and casual athletes, ages 16 years and up, some from as far as Europe and South America in prior years. This year, the athletes are from around the Northeastern U.S., with 60 percent men and 40 percent women, Ms. Dixon said.

"You don't have to be a great athlete or highly trained. It's just a great way to get out and create a personal challenge for yourself," said Ms. Dixon, special events coordinator for the John H. Chafee Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor. "It's just a really fun day."

Mountain trail running is new to the race this year, on a trail with a 500-foot elevation increase in Cumberland, R.I., Dixon said. Also new this year is a Children's Challenge for those waiting at the finish line.

A portion of race proceeds, $2,500, will be donated to the Gov. Aram J. Pothier Elementary School in Woonsocket, R.I., for environmental education and field trips. The rest of the proceeds cover race expenses.

Meanwhile, as the day of the race approaches, athletes and team captains are crisscrossing the Blackstone River Valley to learn the racecourse and each transition site. This year's course starts off with a 1.5-mile trail run, followed by a five-mile mountain bike segment, a five-mile street run, a three-mile river kayaking segment, a 24-mile stretch of street biking, a four-mile cross-country run, and finishing up with a four-mile kayak paddle on the river.

"My job is to run around ahead of time, get the GPS coordinates, and get the athletes to point A and point B," explained Bill Zahavi, team captain of the Appalachian Mountain Club Worcester Chapter men's team. "It's kind of a fun, internal competition. At the end of the day, we get together for a party and the losers buy drinks."

Mr. Zahavi spent last weekend scoping out the course and transition spots. His team, which includes casual athletes and triathletes, considers its true rival to be another AMC Worcester Chapter team made up of women who call themselves the Victorious Secrets.

"Our goal is to beat the women, but we have not been too successful the past few years," Mr. Zahavi, who lives in Westboro, said jokingly.

"They haven't beaten us yet," said Worcester resident Shirley Cote, captain of the Victorious Secrets, whose husband is on the AMC men's team. Three years ago her team placed first in the women's division and has been trying to regain that title ever since.

"We all have a competitive side to us, we all want to win. But overall we want to get together with our friends," Ms. Cote added. "The bottom line, I tell my girls: Let's have fun with it."

Mr. Zahavi and Ms. Cote said the race is really doable for all levels of athletes. Divisions range from recreational to championship, including all-women, masters for senior athletes, and corporate for teams of co-workers. Individuals can race in the ironman or ironwoman divisions, completing all seven segments of the race on their own. About 80 percent of the maximum 100 entries are teams of up to nine people, with most teams averaging four or five members. Ironmen and ironwomen make up the remainder, with the help of one support person each.

In the Children's Challenge at the finish line, kids ages 6 to 12 will compete in an egg relay, a Hula-Hoop contest and a football toss. The children's event is sponsored by the Blackstone Valley Chamber of Commerce.

"We make it challenging for the kids. They get to receive their medals, too," Ms. Dixon said.

The race was inspired by a paddling expedition in 2000 along the Blackstone River by environmentalists and government officials, organized to show off the river's environmental revival, starting from the headwaters in Worcester all the way to Pawtucket, R.I.

The next year, Ms. Dixon and other organizers planned a relay course open to the public, highlighting the region's natural beauty and the growing Blackstone River Bikeway, along with other recreational opportunities and historical features. Every year the race is held on the last Saturday of September on a different course, with the longest course 62 miles long several years ago.

The first race in 2001 drew 242 athletes.

"The momentum kept building and here we are 12 years later with 1,000 people. It's just a major, major event," said Ms. Dixon.



CUTLINE: (1) Team Whitinsville Community Center rider Bob Thomas of East Douglas gets a breather after completing his segment of the 2010 race, biking from Millbury to Uxbridge, and finishing in the Top 10. (2) Kayakers maneuver around obstacles during the second leg of the 2010 Greenway Challenge.
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Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Geographic Code:1U1RI
Date:Sep 21, 2012
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