Four Durango women from the Animas Amazons rafting team will travel to China to compete in the International Rafting Federation Ziyuan Rafting Festival.
Mia Carrasco-Songer, Jenn Clayton, Teal Lehto and Ann Trebelhorn will compete June 27-July 1 in three events at the festival on the Wupai River in southern China. Fourteen countries will be represented across women’s and men’s categories, and the Animas Amazons will be the only team from the United States at the event.
Events will include downriver, head-to-head and sprint, said Teal Lehto.
In the downriver race, teams paddle down a river for up to 1½ hours.
The sprint race is a time trial through 2 to 3 minutes of continuous whitewater.
The head-to-head uses the same course as the sprint, but with two teams racing head-to-head and navigating to buoys throughout the course to circle around.
Carrasco-Songer said she was excited to experience a different culture on the trip and to meet raft racers from across the world.
“What an incredible opportunity to see another country,” she said. “I’m pretty excited about that part just seeing another culture that’s so different from ours, but also to go there around something that we all share.”
In the United States, raft racing is a small, grass-roots sport, she said. It is much more established internationally.
“It’s kind of cool to get to talk to the other international teams and learn how they train and see what’s taken them so far,” she said.
Carrasco-Songer and Clayton are original members of the 6-year-old team. There are about 15 women involved in the team, with about eight who regularly compete, Clayton said.
The name Animas Amazons pays homage to their home river, as well as references to the women warriors from Greek mythology called Amazons, Clayton said.
“To be able to compete and have that team mentality and get women out on the water all together has been an incredible experience,” she said.
While whitewater raft racing is a niche sport, recreational rafting is more mainstream.
Clayton says she loves being on rivers and in canyons. There are certain landscapes that are only accessible by river, she said.
Outdoor sports can be elite and have a big barrier to entry for people who don’t have experience, but rafting is different, Lehto said.
“I think of it as a fairly egalitarian outdoor sport because anybody can do it, almost anybody can go rafting as long as there’s one person in the boat who knows what they’re doing,” she said.
The team got selected for the invite-only event after submitting an application. The organizers are paying for airfare, lodging and food for all of the athletes. Normally, the team pays out-of-pocket for racing expenses. The team is sponsored by Immersion Research, Jack’s Plastic Welding and Shred Ready.
Lehto, a Fort Lewis College student, is also a member of the United States Rafting Association Womens Under 23 team, which will be competing at the International Rafting Federation World Rafting Championship in Argentina, Nov. 4 through 10.
“Women are on the up-and-up in the whitewater community,” Lehto said. “There’s more woman kayakers and rafters now than there ever were before.”