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A lifetime of liquid

December 1, 2005

Eric Ronemus is the type of elementary school teacher who prays for a snow day at Griffin Creek Elementary so he can go kayaking in December.

Looking out the bedroom window of the dream house he and his wife Anne built overlooking the Rogue River, Ronemus checks the level to see if the wave below the Gold Rey dam is in.

With a little luck, he heads down his windy driveway with an eight-foot kayak in the back of his truck for a quick session. The interesting thing about 51-year-old Ronemus &

besides the fact that he paddles better than most guys half his age &

is his lifelong dedication to water sports of all kinds.

&

There&

s not much testosterone left in the ol&

boat,&

Ronemus said. &

I kind of feel it a little more in the morning, and my reflexes are a little slower now.&

With a modest, nothing-but-smiles attitude, Ronemus is one of those guys who seems to be exactly where he wants to in life. With a chunk of land overlooking the entire Rogue Valley, a wife who will feed any visitors no matter how grungy and a senile old dog that pretends to protect the fort, Ronemus is riding the whitewater dream as far as he can.

&

It&

s worked out pretty well for Eric,&

his wife Anne said. &

He really enjoys teaching, and he gets his summers off.&

— — —

Eric Ronemus goes for big air at the Nugget Rodeo — on the Rogue River.

Photo by Anne Ronemus

While the mustached Oregonian has been relishing the entertaining whitewater of the Rogue for 28 years, he has realized that his teaching abilities do not cross over into the whitewater arena. Teaching Anne to kayak ended fruitlessly, and that&

s OK with both of them. Thus, when Eric goes out boating, his wife happily stays home - especially in December.

Ever a strong, competitive swimmer, the Ronemus paddling saga began in Springfield, Ohio, when Eric&

s father bought an old aluminum canoe. After finishing second in a local flatwater race, the two got more serious with their racing.

In one of his proudest victories, Ronemus won the 1969 Junior Men&

s Class for canoe racing on the Wabash River in Wabash, Ind. Thor Ronemus, Eric&

s father, helped him paddle to the finish. Thor still races flatwater canoes in Ohio &

offering hope for a few more decades of paddling for his son.

the age of 16, Ronemus was training for the 1974 Olympics. During this period, he and four other U.S. Olympic Kayak and Canoe Paddlers made LIFE magazine by pulling an 11-year-old girl on water skis behind their kayak.

When President Richard Nixon decided the U.S. should not attend the 1974 Olympics in Moscow, Ronemus decided he didn&

t want to spend another four years training and relaxed his intense regiment.

Looking back at the old photos of his Olympic flatwater training days and numerous medals and plaques hanging on the wall, he cracks a smile and chuckles.

&

We were racing canoes with paddles that looked like pizza slices,&

Ronemus said. &

We weren&

t really even training for the olympics really. We were just paddling flatwater in Ohio.&

After earning bachelor&

s degrees in outdoor education and education from Bowling Green University, flatwater paddling got a little boring for Ronemus, and he moved out to Oregon in 1978 with &

a little subaru, a big dog and a canoe on top.&

After years of racing and training in boats, whitewater came easily to Ronemus. On his 30th birthday, he took an Eskimo roll class at the YMCA in Medford.

With his knowledge of hydrology and paddle strokes, Ronemus took whitewater kayaking to an expert level within a year. Easy whitewater only held his interest for about a month, and soon he threw himself into the Class V rapids of California&

s Salmon River.

Soon his competitive instinct led Ronemus to compete in whitewater rodeos (freestyle competitions) and even more medals to hang on the wall. He has competed in the local Nugget Rodeo on the Rogue for 29 years straight with at least one win that he can remember and still competing with young guns in their teens and twenties.

In fact, Ronemus&

obsession with the whitewater on the Rogue would seem unhealthy if it weren&

t for a career and a wife who willingly permits the obsession.

&

He sort of grew up in a boat,&

Anne Ronemus said.

While she opted out of the kayaking deal early in the game, Anne keeps her husband in shape taking him backpacking and rolls her eyes when he comes home past dark wet and grimy from the river.

&

At least she knows I&

m alone when I come home late,&

Ronemus said. &

No one else would take me in like that.&

At the age of 51 with the majority of his competitive days behind him, Ronemus kicks back like a soul surfer and remembers every day why he started this lifelong sport.

With only a few separated ribs to show for four decades of paddling, the river gods have been kind to Ronemus, and he wants to keep it up for as long as his body will permit. Class V (expert) whitewater doesn&

t hold much of Ronemus&

interest, but he still likes to get tossed around in big hydraulic waves every now and then. For now, though, kayaking is just about relaxing and taking advantage of those hundreds of days every year when he can escape his responsibilities as a school teacher and just be a kid again.

&

Kayaking: It&

s like fishing,&

Ronemus said. &

It just gives a name to going to hang out at the river. You go down at 10 a.m., have a few beers, hang out with your buddies and when you come back you say, &

145;we just went boating.&

People say, &

145;cool.&

&