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Pursuit: Beaton paddler John Larmer still formidable in his 70s

His niche in the four-discipline Sudbury Beaton Classic race is the canoe
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John Larmer.

There are some – solo champions Sara McIlraith and Dan Whalen, for example – who prefer to tackle the diversity of the Beaton Classic, launching themselves into all four disciplines of the demanding summer test.

Those four disciplines are swimming, biking, canoeing and running.

Most, however, who gathered at the shores of Moonlight Beach this past Sunday, find their way to their own personal athletic niche. Sure, they are capable of likely tackling pretty much any leg of the local quadrathlon, but there is generally an area of greater comfort.

If you’re looking to track down 30-plus year Beaton Classic veteran John Larmer, best not to stray too far from the beach area. Out on the water is his happy place.

And if you are looking to seriously track him down, best to be ready as the first of the canoeists exit the water. Larmer has been part and parcel of the very fastest teams to conquer the early

August challenge for as long as I have made my way out to the event – which is to say the better part of two decades now.

Did we mention yet that the local paddling legend is well into his 73rd year, set to celebrate his next birthday in December?

Born in Peterborough, raised in Millbrook, but spending his formative/high school years in New Liskeard, Larmer has never been one to enjoy being cooped up inside. 

“I like to spend my time outside; anything to do with the outdoors,” said the man whose only son (James) was also part of their winning team last weekend.

The fact that he could venture to the trails and lakes and vistas that abound across the province is a testament to the athletic base that developed early. 

“I was in every team, just to get out of school – especially in high-school,” he said with a laugh. “Growing up in New Liskeard, if you got on the varsity team, you got Fridays off because we always travelled.”

“It’s not that I hated school. I just loved playing sports – football, basketball, whatever was seasonal.”

That would serve him well as he settled from his life as a travelling professional musician – he spent basically the entire 1970s on the road – making the move to Sudbury when he hit his thirties. 

The timing was ideal. On a local level, the Sudbury Fitness Challenge was going strong, giving Larmer easy access to an outlet for his love of running and cycling and skiing – pretty much anything but swimming.

In the meantime, his outdoor adventures had rendered him more than a little proficient with a paddle in hand, his understanding and knowledge of the skill-set meandering along in much the same way that the northern rivers carve their path through the bush and rock.

“I was a tripper first, camping overnight and going off on lakes and things,” he stated. “Then I got in with a bunch of river runners, which I had not experienced before, guys who like to go downstream and challenge rapids. I do that a lot.

“I taught them flatwater aspects, point to point and stuff and they taught me river running techniques.”

It was with this resume in hand that Larmer first entered local competitions, a very naturally competitive athlete at his soul. 

“I would show up with my river running canoe, and while it’s fast for that kind of thing, when you put it next to the racing canoe that’s on the back of my truck, well, you’re not going to beat those guys.

“If you don’t have the right tools, it doesn’t matter how good of shape you’re in.”

Spoken like a man whose standing within the current local paddling community is arguably rivaled only by long-time friend, fellow competitor and sometimes teammate Rob Gregoris.

“It’s taken years to learn all the stuff,” he said.

Yet for as much as the automatic association ties Larmer to a canoe, that kind of narrow thinking does a disservice to just how vast the athletic spectrum runs for a man who suggests that he views sport in much the same way as his other primary passion.

“I never wanted to be a one trick pony, and it was the same thing with music,” he said. “Some people just play country, or just play blues, or just play jazz or classical – but I like it all. When the summer paddling is over, I switch to cycling and then ski all winter.”

This fall will, once again, welcome him to a September journey to the far northwestern shorelines of Lake Superior, paddling his way from Sleeping Giant to Batchawana Bay. Still,

Larmer is not oblivious to the passing of time – though he somehow defies aging in a manner seen in only a very small minority of the population.

“I used to like to do two events (at the Beaton), but at this age, if I train hard for one, I can still be competitive,” he admitted. He takes a similar approach to the two-man 64 kilometre canoe race that highlights his annual schedule, making his way to the Mattawa River showdown now a dozen times or so.

“I’m a little old to be a motor,” said Larmer, referencing the paddler who typically sits at the front of the canoe. “I don’t have the power I had 15 years ago. But I have a skill-set and I’m light.” 

Not to mention the fact that years of experience pay dividends.

“The trick is to cover the shortest amount of distance,” he said. “If you can’t keep the canoe straight, you’re adding a lot of kilometres that are unnecessary and that burns energy and amounts to a lot of time.”

Spoken like a man who in many ways sets the standard for fellow canoeists in Sudbury.

Randy Pascal is a sportswriter in Greater Sudbury. Pursuit is made possible by our Community Leaders Program.