M22 Challenge returns; Gaylord’s Dave Smith sets new course record

2021 M22 Challenge photo by Emily Tewer

From staff reports

It was the perfect day for the return of the M22 Challenge. Sunny weather, 70 degrees, and clear skies made Saturday, September 18, an especially beautiful day in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. 

“After missing last year due to COVID-19 we’re very grateful to be able to work with the National Park and put together a fun and safe event within the M22 community,” said M22 co-founder Matt Myers. “It was great to see all the smiling faces and experience the positive energy of the event.”

Athletes took off on foot southbound on M-109 towards the Sleeping Bear Dune Climb in Glen Arbor. With the postponement of this year’s race due to COVID-19, there was an excitement in the air celebrating 12 years of the M22 Challenge, which race organizers call the most beautiful race in America.

The race begins with a 2.5-mile run that includes the fan-favorite 100-yard dune climb. Up next is the 17-mile bike ride through downtown Glen Arbor that runs around the Glen Lakes. To finish, athletes paddle using a kayak or stand up paddle board 2.5 miles across Little Glen Lake, the most taxing segment of the race.

Dave Smith, 37, from Gaylord, won first place with a course record time of 1:11:17, winning the M22 Challenge for the first time.

“The whole thing was great, but the paddle portion was the best part!” said Smith. “I’ve done a bunch of tri’s before and having the paddle be a part of a multi-sport event was new for me.”

On his lead going into the water, Dave says “I didn’t know a lot of the athletes so I wasn’t sure what to expect once I hit the water but was able to keep my lead the whole time.”

For the Women’s Group, Mandy Paul, 24, from Cheboygan finished in first with a time of 1:21:33 coming back for her third year. “This is my third year and I’ve taken 3rd, 2nd and finally first place! It’s such a nice event and it’s such a beautiful time of year up here. I knew I would do well on the run, the bike is usually my downfall and then I can make some time up on the kayak but when I saw I was the first female on the water I felt pretty good,” says Mandy as she crossed the finish line with a smile.

The M22 challenge attracts a unique group of athletes from around the country. Many dedicated participants show up year after year to better their times and navigate the dynamic challenges of an outdoor race. 

The 2019 overall winner, Ryan DeCook, of Washington, Michigan, said his favorite portion was biking around the Glen Lakes. “The whole atmosphere of being out here in the National Lakeshore, getting to enjoy this beautiful place, the sun coming up this morning was just outrageous, the spectators, the racers, it was all just amazing,” says Ryan. This was Ryan’s fourth year competing in the M22 Challenge. 

Brendan Melling, 32, Hudson, Ohio, signed up four years ago when his older brother convinced him too and he’s been racing in the event ever since. “The bike I felt the most confident in. I had never paddled before when I first started racing. Look at this area, you can’t beat it.” 

Linda and Dan Silvasi from Beverly Hills, Michigan, have both raced in the event for a few years. This is Linda’s second race and Dan’s fourth. They say they keep coming back because it’s so much fun and they love Glen Lake. “The race was great. We trained one day last week and ran up the Dunes. We ride our bikes a lot but haven’t run up the dunes much this summer. My favorite part of the race is the bike for both of us but I really enjoyed running up the dunes,” says Dan. Linda added that their cheering section helped motivate them through the race.

The M22 Challenge plans to return next year on June 11, 2021. More information about the event can be found at M22.com.