Outdoorswoman runs, pedals and paddles to victory
Deb Bauer is an outdoorswoman for all seasons.
During the winter, Bauer, who just turned 52 and works in the aerospace industry, likes to cross country ski, especially around the mountains near her home in Spokane, Washington.
However, it’s the other three seasons where she has excelled the most, as a marathon runner and competitive canoe racer.
Bauer has competed in numerous national canoe championships over the years -- more than 20, to be exact. In 2014, she, along with teammate Rebecca Davis of Michigan, won the national title in the C2 women’s race in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania.
She recently returned to the Mountain State to prove she’s a tough competitor on both land and water.
On April 15, Bauer, a 1983 graduate of Hurricane High School, took part in her first Run for the River Triathlon, winning the women’s division. She finished nearly 12 minutes ahead of second-place finisher Sarah Bocook, also of Hurricane.
“It was a really fun race,” Bauer said. “It was a fun course. It was fun to get to paddle on the Coal River again. It was like the ‘80s since I last paddled out there.”
The race started with a 3-mile run within Meadowood Park in Tornado, then an 8-mile bike ride from Tornado to Alum Creek, a 7-mile paddle from Alum Creek back to Meadowood Park and finishing with a quick 1/4-mile run back to the finish line at the CRG River Center. The Coal River Group sponsors the Run for the River.
“I think I was the only one out there with a canoe,” Bauer said. “Just about everyone else had kayaks.”
Even though she likes to bike, it was the most unfamiliar part of the race.
“I’ve only biked twice so far this spring,” she said. “I just quit skiing about three or four weeks ago. We still have a hundred inches of snow on my mountain out in Spokane, so we’ve had a late winter out there.
“I borrowed a bike from a good friend of my brothers. It was a really nice bike.”
When she attended Hurricane High, she ran the half-mile for the track team and played basketball.
She got into canoeing during her youth, competing in her first race at 14 with help from her father, Bill Samples.
“I actually did my first canoe race with my dad. He’s the one who really got me into it,” she said. “I’ve been racing canoes ever since.”
It was also through canoeing where she met her husband, Nick, who is also accomplished in the sport, winning the Men’s National Canoe Championship in 1993.
“We met through canoe racing. We met around these parts, since he grew up in Cincinnati.”
Nick’s brother moved to Spokane, and the couple, who married in 1987, decided to join him.
“We decided we’d go out there and check it out, maybe spend a year or so. We both ended up getting jobs and, 30 years later, I’m still there.”
She worked for 21 years with Boeing before accepting a job offer from a former co-worker who has started up his own company.
Deb and her husband both work at ATC Manufacturing, which makes thermoplastic composites and does regular business with her former employer, Boeing. She works in quality assurance and Nick works in research and development.
“It pays for my habits,” she laughed. “I’d love to retire early, but, in all reality, I’ll be working a while longer.”
A couple of years ago, while preparing for a running race with her husband, Deb broke her ankle, which sidelined her for a time.
“I was running on this trail along the river, and I jumped over a rock and kind of grazed it,” she explained. “So, when I came down, (my foot) was sideways.
“I didn’t even realize that I fell. I thought I had stepped on a stick, because I heard something crack. We were down by the river, so we had to climb this hill to get out of there. So, we just wrapped our arms around each other and hobbled up the hill.”
She says she’s fine now, as she hit the mountain this past winter.
“I really haven’t got back into running as much as I used to,” she said. “The run and the bike, I didn’t have any problems with them, but as far as my fitness level, it’s not where I’d like it to be.”
She had flown into West Virginia only two nights prior to the April 15 triathlon.
A busy weekend included attending her cousin’s final home game as a senior for the St. Albans High School softball team and her 3-year-old niece’s birthday party.
“It’s been nonstop, which is the way we always do it,” she said. “We pack in as much as possible. Any chance I get to come home is a treat. When you live on the other side of the country, it’s hard to do.”
Her niece’s father and Deb’s younger brother, Thomas Samples, also took part in the Run for the River, finishing second overall.
“It’s wonderful having a family so supportive,” she said. “My dad is the one who got me started down this path, so I’m forever, eternally grateful for that. (My father and brother) were there at the nationals when I won.
“That’s the nice thing about canoe racing: It’s a family sport. To be able to be with my family is the most special part of it all. Both my family and my husband’s family are very supportive. We love adventure, for sure!”
These days, when she isn’t running, skiing or canoeing, she spends time with her dogs, a pair of Australian Shepherd-Blue Heeler mixes named Kolka and Buck.
“They’re herding dogs, but they don’t herd anything. They go to all the races with us,” Deb said. “Running with my dogs is probably my favorite thing.”
She plans on competing in an outrigger canoe race in California -- from Newport Beach to Catalina Island -- later this year. However, she doubts if she’ll compete at this year’s national canoe championships.
“I don’t know if I’ll get to go to the nationals this year or not,” Bauer explained. “That’s the hard part of working and trying to compete, getting the time off.”