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Milford’s Manu’iwa Outrigger club sent two six-man outrigger canoes to the annual 20-mile Blackburn Challenge, a race to circumnavigate Cape Ann on the north shore of Massachusetts in July.
Blake Conant of Milford, founder and coach of the club, lad his Senior Master’s team to victory in 2:32.12 to defeat the second-place finisher by more than 17 minutes.
Conant said: “I’ve been paddling with these guys for over a decade and they’re very skilled and great guys to paddle with.”
The team consisted of Mike Fairchild (C1 Marathon canoe champion), Rod McLain (US Olympic team, high kneel paddling), Del Cummings (C2 Marathon canoe champion), Paul Dyka (C1 Marathon canoe champion), Marc Lessard (C2 Marathon champion) and Conant (Hawaiian Open Ocean Steersman).
The fifth-place boat, manned by Christine Sudbey, Mike Smith, Brandon Stuczko, Ted Taylor, Jon Wilkins and Stephen Cusano, finished only 43 seconds behind fourth place for a time of 2:57.46.


“That’s a great race for any boat, that’s an awesome race for that boat since four of the paddlers are novices,” Conant said.
“For Chris, Brandon, Jon and Stephen, this is their first season paddling and this was their first race. This is one of the toughest races of the season and to see that crew accomplish so much is impressive.
“We’re not professional athletes, we’ve all got other things in our lives we do, some of us are teachers, engineers, physical therapists, mechanics, realtors, company executives...
“It doesn’t matter what you do to pay the bills we all come together as a team because we love the water and love this sport.”
Smith, a Milford native and Foran High graduate, who has been a club member for three seasons.
He said: “This is a great sport and this was a great race. I’m really proud of what this crew has been able to accomplish so far this season.”
Smith won the 2011 Point services by having the highest cumulative OC1 race points for the 2011, as recognized by the East Coast Outrigger Racing Association.
“I was introduced to this sport at the Milford Oysterfest in 2009, when I started talking to Blake at the canoe/kayak race and few weeks later I was hooked.
“This is a sport and a community to which few compare. Listen, I swam in high school and college, rowed crew in college, participated in multiple charity bike rides, run road races and completed two half Ironman triathlons, but few things compare to the combined competitiveness and the community togetherness outrigger races provides.”
If interested in learning or seeing more, check out manuiwa.com/.