SUNY Potsdam Canoe Racing Team 'Rocks' the Boat, Winning State Competition


From left to right, canoe club teammates Emily Stephan, Mike Collyer, Ryan Brink and Kaitlyn Gesel pose with their championship cup and plaques.

Don’t tell SUNY Potsdam senior Kaitlyn Gesel and her three teammates on the school’s intramural canoe racing team that a note in a fortune cookie doesn’t have power.

The message “Don’t stop now” proved to be a theme for Gesel, Ryan Brink, Mike Collyer and Emily Stephan, the foursome that won the Long Lake Long Boat Regatta’s New York State Collegiate C-4 championships, a 10-mile race in Long Lake, N.Y., with a time of one hour, 33 minutes and 22 seconds.

“I opened the fortune cookie and decided to tape it to my paddle,” said Gesel, an art education major from Buffalo, N.Y. “It was a reminder for the race.”

The event, which took place Sept. 25 and is organized by the Adirondack Watershed Alliance, included six boats represented by Potsdam, Hamilton and Paul Smith’s.

Brink, a senior geology major from Copake, N.Y., hopes the college race catches on with other institutions and eventually grows into a statewide, recognizable event.

“Many schools were invited to participate, but only a select few got into it,” Brink said. “Hopefully it’s something that will blossom and grow. There is a community of people who are into it … it’s a great chance to meet people from other schools.”

Bill Beauchamp, Potsdam’s director of intramurals and recreation, started the team last year after getting the idea from Adam Wheeler, a wilderness education program instructor. Two students on the original team were lost to graduation, while Brink, Gesel and Collyer, a science education graduate student from Queensbury, N.Y., returned for another season.

“Bill came to us and wanted to get students involved in something different,” Brink said. “We do have an awesome area to race in, so it was something we decided to try.”

With help from paddlers in the community – and support from Potsdam’s student government and Grass River Boat Works in Canton – the group has evolved into a competitive team of regulars and first-timers. Brink and Gesel have participated in seven races this year, while Stephan, a science education graduate student from Waterloo, N.Y., has competed in one event.

“People have jumped at the chance to try it out,” Gesel said. “It’s addicting … it’s a national, competitive sport.”

From Sept. 10 to 12, Gesel partnered with Collyer to take third in the Adirondack Canoe Classic C-2 Stock Mixed Open, a three-day, two-person, 90-mile race from Old Forge to Saranac Lake. Brink and his partner, Colleen Fitzgerald, finished fifth.

The “90-miler,” as it is commonly referred to in the Adirondack region, features over 500 canoe and kayak paddlers in 250 boats in 14 classes.

“It’s hard to conceive paddling for hours and miles at a time,” Gesel said. “I was really sore afterwards. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever done before.”

Described as mentally and physically challenging by team members, canoe racing involves a number of strategies, including boat shape, how to place a paddle in the water and who to assign the important duties of stern and bow paddlers.

Beyond all the intricacies, all agreed that working together and communicating are two of the main keys above all else.

“The atmosphere and the people involved make it so interesting,” Brink said. “You go so hard all day and get into a zone. All of a sudden, you’re done with 90 miles.”

While team members were recruited primarily to participate in the 90-miler, Beauchamp entered the team into the college championship to compete against teams like Paul Smith’s, where canoe racing is considered a varsity sport.

“There is no NCAA canoe race that I know of, so this event puts closure to who has the best paddlers,” Beauchamp said. “It’s great just to get rolling with these fine students.”

The event also allows students to represent SUNY Potsdam at a competitive event and become further engaged in the community surrounding campus.

“It’s great to be in that atmosphere and push through something like that,” Brink said. “It’s close to home and you’re now part of a community.”

“It’s good to bring (a trophy) back to Potsdam,” Gesel added.

And, hopefully, just as good when the next fortune cookie is opened.

For more information on the variety of intramural sports offered at SUNY Potsdam, visit

Founded in 1816, and located on the outskirts of the beautiful Adirondack Park, The State University of New York at Potsdam is one of America’s first 100 colleges. SUNY Potsdam currently enrolls approximately 4,350 undergraduate and graduate students. Home to the world-renowned Crane School of Music, SUNY Potsdam is known for its handcrafted education, challenging liberal arts and sciences core, excellence in teacher training, and leadership in the performing and visual arts.