The Great Greenbrier River Race
Ask long-time Greenbrier River Race participant David Broyles about his first experience of the race, and he'll tell you of his water baptism into the triathlon.
When the 55-year-old Charleston jeweler saw a newspaper ad for the run-kayak-bike event that takes place along the Greenrbier River and its companion rail trail, he said he felt an itch to try something different. That year, the course of the race was between Lewisburg and Ronceverte.
"I saw it in the Charleston paper one year and thought, 'well, I can do that,'" Broyles recalled. "I had never done anything like that before, and I just decided I wanted to try one."
How did that first experience go?
"It was hilarious," he said. "I turned my boat over. They pushed me off the bank, and I didn't get six inches before I was in the water."
But Broyles came out of the river a changed man. After dumping the water out of his kayak, Broyles got back in and continued the paddle to Ronceverte.
"I didn't belong out there," Broyles said. "I had never been in a kayak, didn't run and didn't bike. I just thought I could do it."
Prior to the race, Broyles said he recalled hearing a race volunteer talk about the rescue team that was poised at one of the more challenging rapids on the course.
"I thought, what am I doing? I couldn't even get off the bank, much less go seven miles downriver," he said. "But my car was parked down there, so I had to finish."
Motivated by the necessity of getting to his parked car, Broyles finished and wound up having fun in the process. When he was done, Broyles said he wanted to compete in the next river race.
"Knowing that I really wasn't prepared to do it the first time-it gave me something to look forward to next time," he said.
His first few experiences of the triathlon motivated him to enter another, longer event at South Beach, in Miami, Florida, five years ago.
Nancy Broyles was initially a little skeptical of her husband's racing endeavors, David recalls. However, when she went to take pictures of her husband in his third year of the Great Greenbrier River Race and saw the participants launching their kayaks at the West Virginia Route 39 bridge in Marlinton, she decided she wanted to see what the river had to offer.
Before the couple left Marlinton, David let Nancy take a kayak from Marlinton to the bridge at Buckeye, where he waited for her. When she arrived, Broyles said she "had a smile from ear to ear."
"We soon thereafter went out and bought two kayaks," Broyles continued. "We've been doing more kayaking since then."
The couple regularly kayaks from Pocahontas County toward the family homeplace in Alderson.
Back in Charleston, Broyles runs the family jewelry business. Broyles Jewelers was started in 1947 by his father, the son of an Alderson watchmaker. Today, Broyles is mentoring his two sons and his nephew to be the third generation to contiue the family business.
Outside the jewelry shop, Broyles said he tries to keep fit year round, but after his business' busy Christmas season, Broyles says he focuses in earnest on preparing for the races.
"The South Beach [triathlon] is usually the first weekend of April," he said, "so I have what I call my 100 days of training from December 30 until April 10, doing one or two of those events a day."
The 2011 River Race held special meaning for Broyles; he had just survived a heart attack in November 2010, and doctors installed eight stents in his troubled arteries. He was grateful to get clearance form his cardiologist to participate in the 2011 triathlons.
"I approached both of them as though I had been given a second chance," Broyles said. "I just wanted to do it and keep the momentum going."
Broyles said he didn't condition as rigorously as he had in previous years, but that didn't keep him from clocking his best time ever at South Beach. And in 2012, Broyles said he would like to add another triathlon to his schedule.
For the race that gave him a second chance, Broyles said he wanted to give something back in 2011. Broyles Jewelers sponsored the gym bags commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Great Greenbrier River Race. Broyles said he recognized that the trail was a core part of the area's tourism economy and said he wanted to contribute to the milestone anniversary event.
As each winter comes to an end, Broyles says he looks forward to April.
"It's a good way to start the season off in early spring," said Broyles. "The Pocahontas Convention and Visitors Bureau and other organizers do a great job with it. I hope it continues and runs strong. I hope to be a part of it for years to come. It's just a fun weekend."
The 26th annual Great Greenbrier River Race takes place in Marlinton on April 28. For a complete schedule and registration information, visit greenbrierrivertrail.com.
Drew Tanner may be reached by e-mail at email@example.com