March 25, 2011

Mark your calendars for April 30 regatta, triathlon

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Two wet and wild traditions return to Southern Illinois University Carbondale on April 30.

The 28th Annual Doc Spackman Memorial Triathlon and the 38th Annual Great Cardboard Boat Regatta share the spotlight. Both events welcome students, faculty, staff and the public -- as participants and as spectators. It’s an alcohol-free fun day. Refreshments will be available.

“There isn’t a better way to spend a quality day at our own campus lake, as we celebrate the last of April before gearing up for final exams. It’s hard to beat a long tradition of fun, competition and camaraderie, so take time out to participate in or spectate at the 28th Annual Doc Spackman Triathlon and the 38th Great Cardboard Boat Regatta,” said Kathy Hollister, assistant director of special populations for Recreational Sports and Services at SIUC.

All eyes will be on campus lake on the SIUC campus for swimming, bicycling, running and sail or sink. If you participate, you’re going to get wet. If you’re just there to watch, you still may get wet, depending on your vantage point when viewing the spectacles highlighting the athleticism, creativity, imagination and endurance of competitors.

The triathlon begins with sign-in from 6:30 to 7:30 a.m. at campus lake. The event includes a 385-yard swim, a five-mile bicycle ride and a two-mile run. Participants provide their own equipment and compete either individually or in teams of three with each team member completing one leg of the race.

The triathlon bears the name of the late Robert “Doc” Spackman, a longtime SIUC athletics trainer and nationally recognized physical fitness expert. Participants should register for the event by 6 p.m. April 28 at the Student Recreation Center Administrative Office. The cost is $15 for an individual competitor or $25 for a three-person team. Those registering after the deadline will pay $5 more. The competition field is limited to the first 25 teams and 300 individuals to sign up.

All ages are welcome at this event, although parents must sign a waiver for anyone younger than age 18. If the combined age of team members is 104 or less, the team will compete in the junior division. Teams with a combined age of 105 or higher will compete in the senior division.

There are prizes for the top male and female overall, the top three finishers in each individual age category and first place in each team category.

The boat regatta comes to the campus boat docks with the first race beginning at noon. Boats of all shapes and sizes will try to complete the u-shaped course without sinking. Admittedly, the crowd anxiously awaits those sometimes-spectacular “Titanic” moments.

Registration is from 10 a.m. until noon and the cost is $15 per boat. But, if you want to make your boat prior to race day, you can purchase corrugated cardboard at the chemistry department in the Neckers Building at SIUC. The cost is $3 for a large flat sheet and a typical boat takes about four sheets to build.

Or, if you’re feeling more adventurous, you can pick up an instant boat kit that morning at the regatta. The kit includes one 7-by-8 sheet of cardboard, a box knife, a nail and a small roll of duct tape. There are a limited number of the kits available so a lottery system will select those who get a boat kit and then they get about two hours to finish their boats. Registration for “instant” boats is also $15.

Regatta organizers provide kayak paddles, oars, paddles and life preservers for participants. There are four race classifications. Class I is for boats powered by canoe paddles, oars or kayak paddles while Class II is for boats with paddle wheel, propeller, plunger or other innovative forms of muscle-power. No engines of any kind are permissible. The third class is for instant boats built that morning and the final class is a youth race for those ages 13 and younger.

The top three finishers in each class will get trophies. There are special awards for the most spectacular sinking and the best use of cardboard.

The cardboard boat race traces its roots to a 1974 freshman art and design class at SIUC. Richard Archer gave his students an unusual assignment. They were to build functional boats from corrugated cardboard. From the inauspicious start as a classroom project, the race phenomenon has exploded. During the ensuing years the regatta has drawn than 4,000 boats watched by more than half a million spectators. It’s also gained an international following, viewed on television and replicated by more than 2,000 schools and organizations around the world.

Larry “Skip” Briggs and W. Larry Busch, now both retired professors in the School of Art and Design, coordinated the event for many years and when they stepped down in 2010, the University’s Beta Psi Chapter of Alpha Chi Sigma professional chemistry fraternity stepped up to keep the event afloat.

For more information about the 38th Annual Great Cardboard Boat Regatta at SIUC, contact Derek Burnet by email at or by calling 618/521-5946.

For more information about the 28th Annual Doc Spackman Memorial Triathlon, contact Kathy Hollister at 618/453-1267 or by email at Get additional details about both events online at under the heading “calendars and events.”