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With James at Highest Level in a Decade, Adventure Race Goes Virtual

Flooded road
Heavy rain Wednesday and Thursday caused the James River to reach it's highest level in over a decade, flooding Wharf Street at Rocketts Landing. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

*Clara Haizlett reported this story

Many in-person events have shifted online this year due to COVID-19, but it wasn’t the pandemic that caused Richmond’s annual adventure triathlon to go virtual. 

Participants trail run, mountain bike and whitewater paddle through the James River Park system during the annual King of the James race.While this year was set to be the largest in the event’s six year history, with the James River cresting over 17 feet, event organizer Katie Lemmert says it just isn’t safe. 

“So it's dealing with the river since it's free flowing,” Lemmert said. “We have to, you know, monitor the river levels to keep everybody safe.”

The James River is projected to reach its highest flood levels in at least a decade.

“Unfortunately, 2020 has really thrown a curveball on us,” she said.  

Although the in-person event is cancelled this weekend, contestants have until mid-December to face the course on their own using an app to track their time. 

The event is also a major fundraiser for the James River Park System. 

Joey Parent is a cofounder of King of the James and the associate director of the VCU Outdoor Adventure Program. Parent started the event with his friend Hunter Davis in 2014. They originally thought it would be a small event, just “a handful of people.” 

“Before we knew it,” Parent said. “We had all these people that we had never even met before asking us if they could race.” 

In 2017, the James River Outdoor Coalition took over organizing the race. It’s a non-profit organization that raises funds for park projects. 

“This event is completely volunteer organized and volunteer led,” Parent said. “So pretty much every cent that we make on this event goes directly back to the park.” 

This year, the coalition hopes the event can support efforts to build a universal access ramp in the park system, increasing access to the river for people with disabilities. 

“I think it's made all of us more excited to continue putting this race on and bringing people together to recognize that work that's happening,” Parent said. 

A King and Queen of the James will be virtually crowned in December.

VPM News is the staff byline for articles and podcasts written and produced by multiple reporters and editors.
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