By Tania Martin
HILLS paddlers proved strong contenders at the 2008 Red Cross Murray Marathon.
Despite the absence of extreme heat this year, competitors still had to contend with strong winds.
They usually have to battle 40 degree temperatures but this year faced a mild average of 28.
Renowned as one of the longest annual canoe races in the world, the Murray Marathon did not disappoint again this year.
More than 1060 paddlers, 250 volunteers, and more than 3000 crew members took part in the event.
The marathon first started in 1969 when Mark Thornthwaite and nine mates decided to paddle 250 miles (402km) to raise cash for the Red Cross.
Since then the trek along the Murray from Yarrawonga to Swan Hill has become a tradition for many to rein in the new year with a paddle in hand.
Hills team, Dumb and Dumber took to the water again this year, defending their title in the relay section of the event.
In just their second run in the event, the team took out back-to-back victories.
Dumb and Dumber member Gary Wardrope said the team would return again next year to defend their title.
He said this year proved a much tighter contest.
“We will have to put a lot more work in next year if we are going to retain the title,” he said.
Dumb and Dumber raised more than $3300 for the event.
Selby’s own Michael ‘Mad Mick’ Dinkgreve again proved to be one of the characters of the event.
He has just returned home, a little tired but vows to continue paddling to reach his goal of 50 marathons.
This year marked his 21st attempt at the event.
Mad Mick first took up the challenge when he was just 16 in 1979 but said he will be paddling for years to come.
He still remains one of the few canoeists in the event with the majority of competitors opting for a kayak.
Mad Mick said it was not just about raising cash for charity but the experience of the event that was a major draw card.
“It’s not easy, it’s hard work but the comradeship makes worth it,” he said.
Mad Mick still vows to continue paddling for another 29 years.
“I will be an old bloke by the time I’m done,” he said.
Mad Mick was the only one in his category but said it’s about more than just where you come in the event.
Despite finishing one hour and 40 minutes slower than last year, he’s still getting faster every year.
Mad Mick’s first marathon attempt took him 56 hours but he now has that down to 39 hours. He is already talking about preparing for the next event and hopes to improve on his times. But Mad Mick said he wouldn’t be able to do the marathon without the support of his ground crew.
Red Cross Victorian division executive director Andrew Hilton said this year attracted the biggest turn-out in the 40 year history of the event.
Mr Hilton said it was great to see the support from the paddling community for what was a major milestone for the marathon. The Red Cross also wanted this year to bigger and better than ever before as they prepare to hand the event over to the YMCA.
By Tania Martin