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'Dads with jobs' regroup to run the river

Ryan Allred and his three rafting buddies from back in the day get together regularly with their families, and on occasion they drift into reminiscing about their whitewater hero days.

They recall the time they bombed down the upper Colorado River to beat the local heroes and win the 2000 National Whitewater Rafting Championships. And then there was the time they got chased by hippos on Zimbabwe's Zambezi River en route to a fifth-place finish in the 2001 world championships.

Allred captained that team of 20-somethings, which included Medford's Todd Clevenger, and John Tribble and Scott Eastman of Yreka, Calif., but they hung up their competitive paddles in 2001 to go legit.

"Those were all great things to do when we were younger," says Allred, 36, of Medford. "When we were doing all that, we were basically river bums. Now we're all dads with jobs."

But this foursome will take a step back in time this weekend when they plug in a certain Bruce Springsteen CD and return to their whitewater roots on California's Salmon River to compete in the U.S. National Whitewater Rafting Championships.

"The last time we raced, none of us had any kids," says Allred, who now has three. "Well, 11 kids and 13 years later, we thought we'd give it a shot. We want to see if we can relive some Glory Days."

The race is on the "Cal-Salmon," where all four guided for the same Northern California rafting company more than 15 years ago.

They will compete in the sprint, head-to-head, slalom and downriver events, with the top-scoring team earning a U.S. Rafting Team moniker and a slot at the world championships set for late August and early September in Brazil.

Although now considered the whitehairs of the whitewater world, Allred's team hopes to use its knowledge of the Cal-Salmon and its tactical skills to equal the top dozen teams in the country. Even if it is just for a weekend.

"I think we'll run the river well with clean runs," he says. "If we're in as good a shape as they are, we have a shot. But that 40-minute downriver race. That's where our age is going to show."

Since they retired from racing after the Zimbabwe adventure, life caught up to the men, who now are all aged 36 to 38.

There are two doctors in the lot — Tribble is head of the emergency room at Yreka's Fairchild Medical Center, and Clevenger is an orthopedic surgeon in Medford.

Eastman is the CEO of the Medford YMCA, and Allred owns rafting and fly-fishing businesses near Happy Camp along the Klamath River and coaches St. Mary's champion golf team.

Their return to the river started in a very 21st-century way: Social media.

The race hosts posted information on the race last fall on Facebook and tagged each member.

"We immediately all called each other and decided to put the old team back together," Allred says. "We just started trash-talking each other.

Once they decided on the name Team Old Balls, they decided to give it a go.

"We kind of took it as a great excuse to get fit," Allred says.

They agreed to wait until after the Christmas-cookie season to get serious, and then the training began. They started with individual workouts, trimming 15 to 20 pounds each over the ensuing months.

Tribble and Eastman did some paddling together, while Clevenger and Allred got a few pulls on the paddles together on the Rogue River.

It clearly wasn't like the old days when they rolled out of bed and hit the river.

"It proved pretty hard to get four working dads in a boat together at the same time," Allred says.

They managed to squeeze in a practice run last week on the Cal-Salmon and pronounced themselves ready to compete.

Rafting is more about strength and technique than cardio fitness, so Allred feels good heading into this weekend's races.

He just doesn't have any feel for what they're up against.

"We've been out of the game so long I really don't know what the competition is like," Allred says.

Still, they consider themselves to be serious contenders to win the U.S. Rafting Team title, and not just a novelty act.

"We really do want to compete," he says. "We really do want to win the whole thing."

With the difficulty they've had juggling their schedules enough to make a return on the Cal-Salmon, they have no plans for Glory Days II anytime soon.

But they're open to it.

"If, for some reason, we won, we'd race in the world championships in Brazil," Allred says. "I know our wives will want to go to Brazil. Actually, we've been kind of using that as an excuse for missing so much family time."

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.