Olympic Athlete Jeff Smoke wins third M-22 Challenge

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Pamela Houtteman gives her dad, Mike Tanielian, an early Father's Day hug following their participation in the M-22 Challenge.

By Stephanie Zalucha
Sun contributor

At 8 a.m. on Saturday, June 11, 548 athletes took off from the start line on M-109 in Glen Arbor and prepared to race up the Sleeping Bear Dunes “Dune Climb.” It would only be the start of a challenging event which also includes a 17.5-mile bike race around Big and Little Glen Lake and a 2.5-mile paddle in Little Glen Lake.

The battle for the number one spot in the 2011 M-22 Challenge took place in the water between U.S. Olympic team Kayaker Jeff Smoke of Chicago, 2010 M-22 Challenge Winner Dennis Paull of Cheboygan, and Steve Andriese of Traverse City.

Andriese, a strong cyclist, was the first to come back to the transition area from the bike and secured a lead going into the water on his stand up paddleboard. Not far behind, Smoke and Paull caught up and took first (1:15) and second (1:19) respectively and Andriese took third (1:20).

Keri Pawielski of Niles, Michigan, took home the overall women’s first place (1:24) and Queen of the Dune trophy for the third consecutive year. When asked if she plans to compete in 2012, she exclaimed, “Yes! I’m so looking forward to next year!”

Between M-22 Challenges, Pawielski also competes in Ironman races. Katy Tomczk of Big Rapids, and Ranae Ihme of Glen Arbor, took second (1:40) and third (1:42) in the women’s overall. Tomczk participated with friends who also compete in the “Mud Run” and “Warrior Dash”.

The M-22 Challenge attracts competitive athletes as well as those who just want to conquer the Challenge. When 18-year-old Bryan Applin’s bike broke down during the race, he thought, “I just want to finish this race,” and made a quick decision to ditch his bike and run the next 11 miles back to the transition area while others cycled past. The Monroe native laughed at the finish, “Inspiration Point is bigger when you have to run up it!”

Seventy-seven-year old finisher Bo Clampitt of Thompsonville told us, “I just like the challenge and I do it to fight old age.” Clampitt, who came with his family, says he wants to go for it again next year too.

For many, it was a family event. Thirteen-year-old Ben Osborn of Ferndale did the race with his mom and stopped just before the finish line to wait for her so they could finish hand in hand. Mike Tanielian, 68, of Glen Arbor and daughter Pamela Houtemann also did the race as a family for their second year in a row. “The whole idea was to train and race with my daughter and try to do my best.” Tanilelian passed his daughter at the end but credits his newer kayak.

While many participants are local, others came from thousands of miles away. Traveling all the way from Southern California, Amanda Silverio said she visited Northern Michigan this winter and after learning about M-22, she wanted to come back to support the area and get outside. “It was awesome!” she exclaimed after racing with her boyfriend and friends.

M-22 Challenge participants came from 15 states this year and event coordinators, Matt and Keegan Myers of M-22, expect that number to grow next year.

About the M-22 Challenge and M-22:

The M-22 Challenge, is a multi-discipline event based in beautiful Leelanau County in Northern Michigan designed to challenge athletes against the natural terrain and environmental elements of the area. The 2011 Event is sponsored by Merrell and Britten Gear. www.m22challenge.com.

Founded by kiteboarders in search of epic wind and waves, M-22 was created to express the common passion for Northern Michigan. M-22 is not just a road; it’s a way of life. Its bays, beaches and bonfires, dunes and vineyards, cottages, friends and family. It is the feeling you get when you realize there is no other place you would rather be. www.m22online.com