Kolka, Wakeley to be next AuSable Marathon Hall of Fame inductees
Mikayla L. Erickson | AuSable River Canoe Marathon Committee
Every year since 2006, two people have been inducted into the AuSable River Canoe Marathon Hall of Fame. These are people the committee, as well as the community, believe deserve the recognition, whether it be their accomplishments in the sport or their dedication to improving it. This year the two inductees are Jeff Kolka and Joe Wakeley.
Jeff Kolka was introduced to the sport by his father, Jack Kolka, with whom he raced his first Marathon in 1979. That year the Kolkas finished in 12th place, with that being the only race in his Marathon career Jeff has not finished in the top five. Throughout the years, Jeff has started 21 Marathons and finished all 21. He is one of only three paddlers with 20 or more starts that have zero DNF, or “did not finish” on his record. Kolka earned his Iron Paddler award in 1994, and Steel Paddler award in 2004.
Jeff holds nine first place finishes and 11 finishes between second and fifth place. Though he has raced with many great people, he states that his races with Serge Corbin and Bill Torongo have been his most memorable. Jeff and Serge have won the Marathon nine times, and the pair also hold numerous Masters Division point to point records, including Wakeley Bridge, Mio Dam, and Foote Dam, all set in 1999.
Kolka and Corbin first met on a Swan Boat racing team where the two became friends. The fall after his 1995 Marathon with Bruce Barton, Jeff went on a hunting trip where he ended up hurting his back and had to take some time to recover. During his healing, Serge asked Jeff to race the 1996 Marathon with him. Jeff agreed, and the team paddled to a first place win with a time of 14:04:05. Corbin and Kolka went on to win the next seven Marathons, being the first team to win so many consecutive Marathons.
Some of the reasons Jeff loves the sport of paddling are the health benefits and the great community that paddlers have. Jeff also loves the camaraderie and family aspect that the paddling community has. Jeff believes that paddling is a great way to bring family and friends together, whether spectating or competing. He lives up to this mindset by paddling and racing with family often. As mentioned earlier, Jeff’s first ever Marathon was with his father Jack Kolka, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2014. This year Jeff is paddling with his niece, Naomi, who has dreamed of paddling with her uncle since she was six years old watching him from the riverbank.
Most people inducted into the Hall of Fame are paddlers, however, if someone has enough passion, dedication, and sheer love for the sport they may be inducted. Joe Wakeley has all of these qualities and more. Although Joe has never paddled, he has been involved with the Marathon since high school when he worked at Ray’s Canoe Livery, which is now the Old AuSable Fly Shop.
Joe later volunteered to be a timer for the Marathon, and in the mid-80s joined the committee. Joe has been on the committee for over 30 years, doing everything he can to help the paddlers and their families, including loaning his yard for parking and boat prep. He believes the committee is a well-organized group that sticks to format and follows the rules. These qualities, and the fact the committee is consistent in how they treat people, help give the race good credibility. The hard work the committee puts in helps ease the stress of the paddlers and their teams.
Along with Steve Southard and Phil Weiler, Joe helped form the Triple Crown of Canoe Racing. The Triple Crown includes the General Clinton Canoe Regatta in New York, the AuSable River Canoe Marathon, and La Classique internationale de canots de la Mauricie in Quebec, three of North America’s most prestigious canoe races. The Triple Crown also helped form the unified boat specs used in all three of the races, whereas before every race had different requirements. They formed the Triple Crown as a way to build both the sport as well as the relationships with Canada and New York. Joe loved being a part of the formation, and states that it was “exciting and cool” to help form the Triple Crown, and also form a friendship with paddler Réjean Huard.
Joe admires the stamina of the paddlers and their ability to stay up all night exerting a great deal of energy. Not only to do it one night of the year, but to continually do it year after year. He also loves the unity of the sport, and how people from multiple countries come to the Triple Crown races annually. One of his favorite parts of the Marathon is watching the bow lights coming across Mio Dam in the middle of the night. Wakeley is honored to join the Hall of Fame with amazing people such as Jack Kolka and Réjean Huard.
Hall of Fame recipients are selected by a joint Marathon Committee vote. To qualify for the honor, an individual must have either contributed time, resources, or assisted in the development of procedures that have either improved or continued the success of the Marathon. An individual may also be chosen for exemplifying the stamina, drive, competitive nature, character and the ability to overcome obstacles while competing in the Marathon.
Individuals recognized to the ARCM Hall of Fame since its inception are: Marilyn Wagner, Jay Stephan Sr., Hugh Bissonette, Bernie Fowler, Butch Stockton, Harry Curley, Ralph Sawyer, Al Widing Sr., Oscoda-AuSable Township Fire Department Water Rescue, Frank and Peggy Smutek, Stan Hall, John Cook, John Baker, Ed Wojahn, Serge Corbin, Bruce Myles, Lynne Witte, Jack Kolka, Larry Kindell, Howard Brubaker, Réjean Huard, the Gary Family, the Kellogg Brothers (Jeff and Jerry), Bruce Barton, and Solomon Carrière.