Palmer Brothers Reflect on 1st AuSable River Canoe Marathon 72 Years Later

GRAYLING – The AuSable River Canoe Marathon has been challenging racers for 72 years.

The first race, then called the Michigan Canoe Championship, was in 1947.

Leo and Junior Palmer were there for that first race. In fact, they even participated.

“It sure was the first one, and the last too!” said Leo Palmer, who is 92 years old and a World War II veteran.

They decided to jump into the race at the last second.

“Leo and I just got home from the war and we didn’t have time to practice, we just got in it,” said Junior Palmer, who is 95 years old and also a World War II veteran.

The race is still the same concept as it was 72 years ago with the same distance and the same destination. The biggest difference is they didn’t start back on land and have to run and jump in the river. Regardless, the race was much more difficult back then.

“The canoes are all together different, they’re nothing like what we started with,” said Junior. “The race for us, the trouble was it was cold, we had no food, no water, and no flashlights. We just went with what we had.”

Plus, most of the canoes back then were wood and canvas and weighed close to 100 lbs.

The two brothers did not complete the race, but they lived to tell the tale.

“We made it to the second dam down, I think it was Five Channel, somewhere down there when we quit,” said Junior.

Junior and Leo will be watching the race along with the thousands of others starting at 9 p.m. at the Old AuSable Fly Shop in Grayling.