U19 and U23 teams

Rafters from the local women’s masters, U19 and U23 team smile for a photo by the Arkansas River. All three teams qualified for the world championships this summer in China. Members of the team include,  front row from left, Jade Barron, Cari Beasley, Sam Barron and Claire Carlson; back row, from left, Lori Cassidy, Chris Smejkal, Hannah Bradbury, Kali Carlson, Julie Sutton, Bari Beasley, Kat Harmon and Jamie Sanchez.

This Valentines Day people can find love... of rafting at Soulcraft Brewing.

The national champion master’s and U19 women’s raft teams are hosting a fundraiser to help them make the trip to Ziyuan, China and the WuPai River in August for the International Rafting Federation’s World Rafting Championships.

Roundhouse Assembly will perform from 7-9 p.m., Ark Aces gear will be on sale and the Salida Starlettes will also perform during the band’s intermission.

“The fundraisers are our lifeblood to get to the events,” said Julie Sutton, who is on both the masters and open raft teams. “Without the support both financially and otherwise, it would be all out of pocket. Usually, that translates into working to support ourselves in our sport. When we can take the financial pressure off and have the validation and support of our friends and family, it helps boost team morale and encourages us to push through our training so that we can be prepared to represent the U.S. and our valley the best we possibly can.”

The 40-plus masters’ Ark Aces team is new but experienced. The team includes captain Samantha Barron, Cari Beasley, Chris Smejkal, Sutton, Dominique Naccarato and Samantha Bahn. The Under-19 Dandy Lions team includes Lori Cassidy, Jade Barron, Jaime Sanchez and Claire Carlson.

The local U23 and open women rafting teams scored national titles last year and will also compete in China, but won’t participate in this fundraiser. Naccarato said the U23 girls are currently scattered around the country for college while the open team is more established and holds its own events.

Naccarato said it will cost around $2,000 per paddler to get to China so the teams are hoping to raise at least $10,000.

Through the sport of rafting, the teams’ mission is to inspire and empower women of all ages by demonstrating physical and mental strength while building our local community of rafting, river play and river stewardship.

At the world championships, the rafters will race in a downriver race, sprint, slalom and head-to-head races against other countries’ best paddlers.

“We’re excited to go to a new and exotic place to go rafting,” Naccarato said. “It’s going to be great for us to find out what we’re up against on the world stage.”

Sutton is the only member who has experience at a world championship. She raced with the U.S. women’s open raft team at last year’s world championship in Australia where they placed fifth.

“The competition always involves more teams to compete against than the number of teams that we compete against in the U.S.,” Sutton said. “Just like any international sport, when countries send their best to the world championship, you’re competing with a lot of experience. Some teams from other countries are paid or backed by their government so their training is more consistent than what we are able to do here. That makes them some pretty powerful women to paddle against.”   

The world championships are an R4 event, meaning four paddlers can compete at a time. Next year’s nationals, meanwhile, will take place in Oregon in June and are an R6 competition.

Other fundraisers are also planned, including a raft film movie night March 6 at A Church and a boat exchange sponsored by Riverboat Works in April. Sponsorship opportunities are also available by emailing arkacesraftingteam@gmail.com.

Find out more about the Ark Aces on their website and at facebook.com/Ark-Aces

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