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Kids and Whitewater

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Published on: Oct. 2, 1996

Last revision: Oct. 25, 2010

Jesse smiles. He is too much a gentleman to say that for him canoeing on the Current River is like Michael Jordan going one-on-one with Princess Di.

Jesse and his 14-year-old sister, Brooke, and their parents, Mike and Debbie, have been down wild whitewater rivers like the Middle Fork of Idaho's Salmon River.

They consider Missouri's St. Francis River a barely-sufficient warmup for real rapids, a finger exercise for a whitewater concerto. Yet here's what Oz Hawksley, author of the Conservation Department's Missouri Ozark Waterways, has to say about the St. Francis: "...should not be run by inexperienced canoeists. In high water it should be run by experts only."

Jesse and Brooke, age notwithstanding, are experts. They have their own kayaks, scaled-down versions of the whitewater boats driven by their parents. Brooke has done what her mother calls a combat roll, (popping the kayak back upright in a real rapids) on the Ocoee, a tough Tennessee river, that was the site of this year's whitewater Olympic competition.

Kids and whitewater...when most parents are teaching their youngsters how to catch a baseball, kick a soccerball or work the remote to the video recorder, two mid-Missouri couples are teaching their kids self-reliance and self-confidence in tight situations.

There are few parents in Missouri who run whitewater to begin with and fewer still who bring their youngsters into the sport.

Lewis and Susan McCann's two youngsters, 11-year-old Rebecca, and 8 year-old Colin, raft. They've been down the Chattooga, the wild north Georgia river featured in the movie Deliverance.

"I got the ultimate compliment the first time we took them down a Class Four river," McCann says. "They said, 'This is better than Disney World!'"

Whitewater river runners rate rivers on a scale from one to six, with four considered "very difficult." Only the St. Francis in Missouri has rapids that rate Class Four and then only in high water.

Lewis McCann is an engineer with the Conservation Department. He and Mike Murphy, a Columbia home builder, are old whitewater buddies. Since whitewater became a family affair, the McCanns and the Murphys have shared many tough eastern and western rivers together, as well as all the Missouri whitewater.

Sometimes the trip to and from the river is more of an ordeal than the river itself. "We'll leave in the evening and drive all night," McCann says. "The nearest eastern whitewater stream is 10 hours. We'll float four days on a 4-day trip."

Both families have rafts

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