Paddling with a purpose: WWU student using Ski to Sea as warm-up for an even bigger event


Ski to Sea: Emma Burgeson

WWU student Emma Burgeson, who will compete in the canoeing lef of the 2014 Ski to Sea Race, plans to become part of the first all-women's team to compete in the Yukon 1,000 later this summer.


For many athletes in Whatcom County, Ski to Sea is the main event - the race they train for all season. Western Washington University senior and canoe specialist Emma Burgeson is using the race for a different reason: to help train for an even bigger race.

Burgeson will compete in the Yukon 1,000, the world's longest canoe and kayak race, and while doing so with her friend, Mitzi Peine, they will become the first all-female team to participate, Burgeson said.

The Yukon 1,000 started as a far away dream, but needing something to celebrate college graduation in a "meaningful but challenging way," Peine and Burgeson, who is majoring in environmental science, brought up the Alaskan race. Upon hearing that they would be the first all-female team, they decided they had to do it.

"We are so perfect for this," Burgeson said. "We know we can finish. We are going into it with this feeling of confidence, this feeling of pride."

But the race is expensive. Between registration, travel, equipment and food, Burgeson said they will need between $3,000 and $4,000.

Fundraising for it has gone extremely well so far, Burgeson said. The team has a fundraising website,, which has generated $4,321 so far.

Any extra money raised will go to the Ann Bancroft Foundation, an organization that gives grants to young girls to explore the outdoors and wilderness.

"It's our way of giving back to the community that supported us," Burgeson said.

Training also has been another daunting task. Between finishing classes in time to graduate, working at North Coast Gymnastics Academy and training for both Ski to Sea and the Yukon 1000, Burgeson is busy.

Burgeson, who originally is from Minnesota, has competed in Ski to Sea twice before - once her freshman year and once last year. She has been on rivers and lakes since she could hold a paddle, and it has become a big passion in her life.

"It's almost therapeutic," Burgeson said. "It's so peaceful. But there's still that comfort in the fact that you know what you're doing. You know how to handle the boat. It's just a cool feeling."

It's a feeling she's looking forward to once again experience when she navigates the 181/2-mile stretch of the Nooksack River during the canoeing leg of Ski to Sea on May 25. Less than two months later, she'll tackle an even bigger challenge when river conditions and the weather could be even more unpredictable.

Reach Joshua Hart at 360-715-2271 or

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