‘Focused, diligent, dedicated’

‘Focused, diligent, dedicated’

Cotopaxi athletes qualify for World Rafting Championships in China

With the Arkansas River in their back yard, two current students and two recent graduates of Cotopaxi High School are gearing up for an adventure of a lifetime next summer.

Seniors Claire Carlson and Jamie Sanchez, and 2019 graduates Kali Carlson and Chellis Richards qualified last summer at the U.S. National Rafting Championships in Salida for the 19th World Rafting Championships.

They’ll be heading to the city of Ziyuan, Guang Xi Province, China, for the competition, which is scheduled for the end of July and early August.

Carlson and Sanchez, with their teammates Jade Barron and Lori Cassidy of Salida, will compete in the under-19 women’s four-paddler division. The team’s nickname is Dandy Lions and they can be followed on Instagram at dandy­_lions_raftingteam.

Kali Carlson (Claire’s sister) and Richards, with their teammates Kat Harmon, Hannah Bradbury and Bari Beasley — all three women are area guides — qualified for the World Rafting Championships in the under-23 women’s four-paddler division. Each team is allowed to have five members. One is an alternate, or teams can choose to have teammates who have specialties. Teammates can’t substitute mid-race, but can sub out between disciplines. There are four disciplines whose results are totaled for a final outcome.

“They grew up rafting,” Claire and Kali’s father Steve Fieth said. “We have pictures when they were 2 years old in their life jackets rafting. It’s something that I love and they kind of like it. They had an opportunity to work with and be coached by one of the people at Arkansas River Tours.

“It took a lot of work (to prepare for nationals). They practiced three to four days a week, two hours at a time. They tied their boat to a tree on the lake and paddled against a rubber band for 20 minutes straight.”

While they can’t get together for formal practices in the fall and winter, the women have individual workouts that they do to stay fit, and they remain in regular contact with each other.

“It works out well since Jamie and I have high school sports that we are involved in,” Claire Carlson said.

Julie Sutton, river manager at Arkansas River Tours (ART), leads the teams with Bre Rocksund from Salida. Sutton started guiding in 1999 and has competed at numerous national and world championships.

Sutton is thrilled, she said, to have these young women involved and carrying the torch for the sport of rafting.

“I am super excited for all of these girls, and for increasing the participation of women in the river industry and outdoor industry at large,” Sutton said. “Not only are they incredible athletes, they are going to be mentors for women yet to come — and they have no idea!”

Sutton said she expects the under-19 team to be competitive based on their preparation prior to the National Rafting Championships.

"I expect that they will perform well and be competitive with the world’s top under-19 teams,” Sutton said “They are focused, diligent and dedicated athletes, and their poise was astonishing. As I watched them, I was amazed at how quickly they turned feedback into action. This caused them to surge forward as a formidable team.

“They showed up three days a week for six weeks to prepare for nationals and had to start from the beginning in terms of reading water, learning racing strokes and racing strategies, and swift-water rescue skills. They came a long way in a short amount of time. All of the girls had some river experience, but mostly in terms of spending time on the river with their families.”

Sutton’s goal of building a competitive youth and junior rafting movement took shape after meeting Richards at ART. Stumped on how to move forward, Sutton shared her ideas with Richards who persuaded her best friend Kali to get involved.

“As accomplished athletes in high school, Chellis and Kali were hoping to have something that motivated them after high school to stay active and to be able to continue to compete,” Sutton said.

They in turn recruited Claire Carlson and Sanchez. Sutton also reached out to Jade Barron’s parents about coaching and creating a under-19 team. When the dust settled, Sutton had enough women to field two competitive teams.

 “Each of the girls have such strong backgrounds in other sports, that they were able to bring those skill sets to raft racing and produce incredible teams,” Sutton said.

 The 2020 World Rafting Championships will be held on the Wu Pai River, which has held other major international events in recent years. There are no entry fees, but competitors are responsible to handle their own transportation.

  A total of 48 women and men’s teams in all divisions competed at the 2019 World Rafting Championships in Australia.


Top photo (l-r) Claire Carlson, Jade Barron, Jamie Sanchez, Lori Cassidy


Insert photo (l-r) Kat Harmon, Hannah Bradbury, Kali Carlson, Chellis Richards, Bari Beasley