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Water Safari winners named

By Jennifer Lee Preyss
June 14, 2011 at 1:14 a.m.

PHOTOS: KATHLEEN DUNCAN/ KDUNCAN@VICAD.COM

PHOTOS: KATHLEEN DUNCAN/ KDUNCAN@VICAD.COM

After a grueling 39 hours and 51 minutes of sleepless paddling down the Guadalupe River, boat 314 team members crossed the Texas Water Safari finish line in Seadrift.

The bay waters were dark and calm when the Las Animas team paddled to first place at 12:51 a.m. Monday, completing the 260-mile race nearly an hour before another boat would arrive at the finish line. When the race kicked off Saturday morning, 103 boats entered the water. Late Tuesday, only 79 remained.

The Las Animas six-man team won first place overall, and first place in the Unlimited category.

"It felt awesome," 28-year-old San Antonio resident William Russell said.

"But we're pretty humble about it," echoed fellow team member Sam Ritchie, 23, of Philadelphia.

Both Russell and Ritchie completed the "toughest canoe race in the world" in previous years, and many of the crew members are former overall champions of the race.

"We've won the race three times," said 31-year-old team member Andrew Stephens, of Austin, gesturing to his cousin, Russell.

"When you finish, you're body is beat up afterwards, Russell said.

With multiple Safaris under their belts, including team captain Jeff Wueste who has completed the race more than a dozen times, boat 314 was determined to finish with the fastest time.

"So one of the super unique things about the race this year is the two top teams raced together almost the entire way," Russell said, referring to second place boat 154, which included team members Gaston Jones, Fred Mynar, Logan Mynar, Jeff Glock, Max Feaster and Kyle Mynar. "That never happens."

Russell and Stephens said the two boats were neck-and-neck until mile 200, then slowly began to separate.

Boat 154 finished the race in second place at 1:54 a.m. Monday, in 40 hours and 51 minutes.

Reflecting on the race, Ritchie said the team worked well together in a continuous paddle. Laughing, he recalled team member Daniel Cruz falling asleep and waking up believing he died, possibly because of heat exhaustion and general fatigue.

"He woke up asking if he was dreaming ... then he said 'I feel amazing' and starts paddling," Ritchie said.

"He was a born-again athlete," team captain Wueste said. "He was witnessing to me after that."

During Tuesday's Safari awards ceremony, the team accepted individual plaques and the 4-feet-tall champion trophy, displaying the engraved names of past winners.

When asked if the team has plans to compete in the 2012 Safari, Russell responded, "Yes. We just want to keep our names on the trophy."

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