By: Tom Lambert
Nearly eight months after their record-setting performance, Jorden Wakeley and Matt Meersman have announced they are defending their title in the 2022 Consumers Energy Au Sable River Canoe Marathon.
The dynamic duo will return July 30-31 to the 120-mile race, but this time in unfamiliar territory. The two are now being chased by the rest of the canoers, who will do everything in their power to make sure their reign as champions is short-lived.
“I’m more motivated now than I’ve ever been to defend our title,” said Wakeley, 31, a Grayling native and professional mountain bike racer. “There are a lot of great teams that will be looking to knock us off, but we will be ready.”
In the 2021 marathon, Wakeley and Meersman had a time of 13 hours, 54 minutes and nine seconds– beating the previous record of 13 hours 58 minutes and eight seconds set in 1994 by race Hall of Famers Serge Corbin and Solomon Carriere. Those are the only two teams ever to be under 14 hours at the marathon.
The recent champs caught up to train for a few days under sunny skies in Florida.
“Nobody has pushed me harder in my life than Jorden,” said Meersman, 45, of South Bend, Indiana who works in river conservation. “I know what kind of athlete Jorden is, he competes at the highest level. My mindset to myself is, ‘You better get on your game old guy.’ There’s an opportunity here and you’d better seize it.”
The two go about training for the marathon in much different ways, but they find themselves at their best when the pressure mounts.
“Something just clicks with Matt. I don’t have to say anything to him since we are both on the same page,” Wakeley said. “We want to accomplish the same thing and I trust him to put in the work to put us in the best possible position to make that happen.”
In 2021, Wakeley and Meersman finished more than 13 minutes ahead of the second-place team, Wes Dean of Grayling and Weston Willoughby of Traverse City. Dean and Willoughby finished in 14:07:37.
Willoughby and Dean finished in first place, one spot ahead of them in two races leading up to last year’s Consumers Energy Au Sable River Canoe Marathon – the Curley Memorial in Oscoda and the Spike’s Challenge.
“All the credit in the world to them – they are a great team” said Meersman. “That really pushed us harder and know what we have to do for (the 2021) and this year’s Au Sable Marathon.”
Training for Meersman includes more than 200 hours to build his endurance for the variety of circumstances his team will face in his 16th Au Sable River Canoe Marathon.
“Sometimes I think we should dial it back, but Jorden keeps the pedal down,” Meersman said. “I just follow his lead, and if I blow up, I blow up. He has to know I’m giving him everything I’ve got.”
While Wakeley said he likes training on the water, he stays in tip-top shape primarily through cross-country skiing and mountain biking.
He rode his bike for about 7,000 miles last year and spent another 1,000 miles cross-country skiing.
“I love getting ready for this event,” said Wakeley. “We know the challenges that we are facing, but we have confidence in each other that we can accomplish our goal again this year.”