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As many as 100 canoers and kayakers travel from as far as France compete this morning for gold, silver, and bronze medals in the 38th annual Vermilion River Race. But if the water level is low, the competition could be moved upstream, closer to Lake Erie, where the level is normally a couple of feet higher. "For a skilled boater, high water levels are not a problem," says Rob Hammond, treasurer of the Keel-Haulers Canoe Club, which hosts the event. "But we get a lot of beginner boaters at this race, and it's a little hazardous for them. They can get pushed into logs in the river, and they might have difficulty navigating the hydraulics." Rowers shove off from the starting line at one-minute intervals. The fastest contestants typically finish the course in an hour, but for many rowers, the challenge is to concentrate while maneuvering on the 38-degree water. "The hardest thing is to maintain your focus," says Hammond, who took home the first-place prize in 2001. "When you're paddling for an hour, it's hard to focus on each stroke. You tend to get sloppy and distracted, but it's a good way to gauge how you're doing. If you're passing people, then you're in better shape than people passing you."
Sun., April 2, 10:30 a.m.-2 p.m.

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