Paddling: Who Was That Fast Man?

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Outside magazine, November 1995

Paddling: Who Was That Fast Man?
By Todd Balf (with Joe Glickman)

At the start of the 715-mile Finlandia Clean Water Challenge, the world’s longest kayak race, South African Lee McGregor paddled into Lake Michigan from the Chicago shore at sprint pace. Given that the 43-year-old McGregor was both an unknown and the oldest participant in the field of 17, few took his fast and furious takeoff very seriously. They should have. Beginning with the
first stage, a 32-miler across Lake Michigan, McGregor never lost the overall lead through the remaining 28 stages of the race, which ran to New York City via lakes Michigan and Erie, the Erie Canal, and the Hudson River. After a month of racing, the former world-class swimmer stepped ashore at Manhattan’s South Street Seaport, 30 minutes and 15 seconds in front of four-time
Olympic medalist Greg Barton, and earned $25,000, the biggest purse in paddling history. Barton had never heard of McGregor, whose own Olympic dream fizzled two decades ago when South Africa was banned from international competition because of apartheid. “I waited 25 years to compete against the best,” McGregor said of Barton at the finish. “I was hungrier.”

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