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Penobscot Elder Chip Loring’s Most Important Life Lesson

The canoe racer and Ironman competitor is admired for much more than his racing accomplishments.

Penobscot elder Chip Loring
By Ann Pollard Ranco
Photograph by Alberto Lopez
From our November 2021 issue

On a recent afternoon, paddling on Birch Stream, in Old Town, Penobscot elder Chip Loring paused to admire the scenery. As he did, an otter surfaced to greet him, just an arm’s length from his canoe. Nearby, her young splashed playfully in the current. For a moment, time seemed to stand still.

It was the kind of scene that Loring has enjoyed countless times during his seven decades on Maine’s waters. Now an internationally recognized champion canoe racer and a mentor to young paddlers from the Penobscot Nation, he was only four years old when he learned how to paddle on this very stream — or, as he remembers it, “how to get back in the canoe” after his father flipped their traditional cedar boat, teaching him and his siblings paddling’s most important safety lesson. Those early trips ignited Loring’s passion, and he spent his formative years traversing the many waterways around Indian Island, following the routes of ancestral Penobscot paddlers.

In 1967, at 19, Chip Loring enlisted in the army. He quickly achieved a childhood dream of becoming an Army Ranger, and he made sergeant within a year — “even before my voice changed,” he laughs. He was injured during his second Vietnam tour, and when he returned home in 1969, he was awarded the Purple Heart. He traveled the country for a while after that, readjusting to civilian life, living in and out of Maine. At one point, he took a desk job with an electric utility, but he couldn’t imagine looking out an office window for the next 30 years, and he left after one day on the job. Instead, he learned the roofing trade from an uncle.

In 1990, Loring read about Hawaii’s Ironman Triathlon and made up his mind to register. He trained for months, and when he crossed the finish line, it was with a new enthusiasm for competitive athletics. He rekindled his love of paddling, and in the decades since, he has competed in hundreds of river races, including high-profile contests like Canada’s 1,000-mile Yukon 1000. His name is recognized and respected on the international canoe-racing circuit, and at 73, he’s hardly slowing down. This spring, he and a teammate came in first in their class at Bangor’s venerable Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race.

But Chip Loring is admired for much more than his racing accomplishments. In the greater Old Town area, he’s known for his community service and willingness to help those in need, whether it be repairing a leaky roof, gifting a vehicle, shoveling out neighbors in winter, or helping a friend or acquaintance financially during hard times. He’s also a regular presence at Orono’s community paddles and a mentor to Wabanaki youth, teaching paddling skills as well as life lessons. The most important one he learned as an Army Ranger, then again as a non-athlete turned Ironman competitor. “You can do anything you set your mind to,” Loring says.

Coming off the water, Loring settles on a bench underneath a gazebo. As a thundershower rolls in, I ask him what keeps him paddling after so many years. He looks out toward the river. “The serenity,” he replies.

From our special “70 Over 70” feature, profiling dozens Mainers from all walks of life, all of them over 70 years old. Find a few “70 Over 70” stories here on the website, and pick up a copy of our November 2021 issue to read them all!