12-year-old with local ties sets new record in 340-mile canoe race

Team Redfern on the course Team Redfern on the course




While many were glued to their television sets watching the Olympics the past two weeks, friends and relatives of 12-year old Lauren Redfern were closely watching their computer screens and Facebook pages as she made a little history of her own.  She’s not competing in London, but she did become the youngest competitor to participate and complete the Missouri American River MR340, a 340-mile endurance canoe and kayak race across the state of Missouri from the first stroke in Kansas City to the last gasp in St. Charles.


Lauren, a soon-to-be seventh grader at Holy Childhood School in Mascoutah, Illinois, is the daughter of former Port Clinton and Marblehead residents Jonathan and Edie (Gaydosh) Redfern. The family relocated to Mascoutah, which is about 30 minutes from St. Louis, 3 years ago when Jonathan, a senior master sergeant in the Air Force, was transferred to Scott Air Force Base.


At 12-years old, Lauren set the record as the youngest paddler ever to compete and finish the MR340 race, the longest non-stop canoe race in the world.  She and her father, a 1988 graduate of Port Clinton High School, and family friend and teammate, Kaitlin Jiral, 21, of San Marcos, Texas spent a rigorous 54 hours and 27 minutes paddling day and night down the Missouri River.


During the event, teams had mandatory checkpoints with race officials that also offered a rest stop where support teams could provide food and medical supplies.  At the start of the race July 30, there were

340 teams, but by Aug. 3, only 230 finished, giving the Redfern team third place in their division and an 18th overall finish.


Jonathan is an experienced paddler who has competed in adventure races and canoe/kayak racing all over the world.  His interest in paddling began nearly 20 years ago when he was stationed at Howard Air Force Base in Panama, where he and Edie, raced in Cayucos [hollowed out trees built by local Indians indigenous to Central America] from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean through the Panama Canal.  His most recent endeavor was the Texas Water Safari (the world's toughest canoe race), where he and his teammate finished in the top 20.  Jonathan is also a veteran of the MR340 having paddled twice previously with top 5 finishes both times.  In 2010, after some persuasion, he joined a team that now holds the Guinness World Record for the longest journey by a dragon boat.  Lauren has spent her entire life cheering on her dad; it was only natural that she would become interested in competing as well.  Because of Jonathan’s extensive paddling skill and knowledge, Lauren was allowed to get an age-waiver to participate in this year’s race.


Lauren began training in earnest for the MR340 about a month ago.  “My dad and I did some short trips to the Kaskaskia River so that I could learn how to paddle correctly and steer the boat,” said Lauren.  “He also made me learn how to do a wet entry just in case we flipped.  We drove to St. Louis and did a long paddle so I could get used to the river and could learn how hard it would be to sit in the boat for long periods of time.  My dad is huge on safety and drilled me on boating safety rules, what-if scenarios and marine and river terminology.”  In addition, her dad had her read extensively about food, nutrition, and the importance of electrolytes.  To prepare, she also stopped drinking sugar and caffeine.


Those safety lessons came in handy in the early hours of the morning on night two, when they found a female solo paddler in distress.  The paddler had become separated from her boat and was calling for help.

Team Redfern was successful in rescuing her and her boat and they were able to contact the race safety officials and provide exact coordinates to aid the paddler who did eventually finish the race.


“My motivation for participating in this race was knowing that if I finished I would be the youngest paddler to ever do the race and paddle the entire 340 miles,” said Lauren, that and a promise of an ice cold McDonald’s Coke at the finish line kept me going.”


Lauren said the hardest part of the race was staying in the boat when you really wanted to get out and of course trying to stay awake.


“It’s very easy to get angry at your teammates when you are tired, hungry, wet and cold,” she said. “It was also a little strange to be so tired that your eyes start to play tricks on you.  I kept seeing large crowds of people and a bear on the sand bars.”


Endurance, competitiveness and patience were other key skills the team said they used to complete the race.


Lauren’s mom, Edie, a 1989 graduate of Danbury High School, said that, “even though Lauren is very adventurous, she did have one small fear--Asian Carp.  She’s had previous experience with them jumping into her kayak and actually bruising her ribs before she could get it back out of the boat.”


During this trip at night while the team was skirting one of the shallow dikes, three carp jumped into their boat, but no one was hurt.


“It was scary and the biggest fish I have ever seen,” said Lauren. “It was dark, we were stuck on a log and the fish weighed at least 20 pounds.  I’ve been hit by an Asian carp before so I was even more scared that I would get hurt.  The fish was so big my dad (Jonathan) had to grab it by its tail with both hands and throw it out of the boat.  Two more jumped in before we were able to get out of the wing dike. Kaitlin and I were screaming the entire time and our fellow paddlers teased us about it for miles down the river.”


“Anyone who knows Jonathan, Lauren and Kaitlin knows they are very competitive, however our goal for both girls was for this race to be a positive experience so that they would want to race again,” said Edie.

“So many times we see young athletes in paddling sports compete in one race, never to compete again,” said Jonathan.  “We hoped that both of them would enjoy the experience so much that they would get ‘hooked’!

 I think we were successful.”  Who knows maybe in a few years there will be a female tandem of Redfern and Jiral!



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