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Last boat finishes Water Safari with more than an hour to spare

By Jennifer Lee Preyss
June 15, 2011 at 1:15 a.m.

Ben Keating, 49, and James Graham, 49, with boat No. 338, were the last boat to finish the 2011 Texas Water Safari. Constant flooding from several cracks in the hull presented a major headache for the team who had to constantly bale water over four and a half days.

SEADRIFT - The U.S. Marines have a saying, "Adapt and overcome."

For the past four days, that's exactly what retired Marines Ben Keating and James Graham did.

Paddling down the Guadalupe River in a two-man tandem canoe, the 49-year-old friends were the last to cross the Texas Water Safari finish line in Seadrift on Wednesday with exactly one hour and four minutes to spare.

"I paid for 100 hours, and we used 99 of them," Graham jested, saying he didn't care they came in last. "I think we got our money's worth."

Displaying water-whitened hands with open blisters from continuous paddling, the men stepped out of their boat, still containing a pool of river water at the base, and pulled it up on shore for the final time.

"We're going to sleep the whole way home," Graham said of the road trip back to Canyon Lake, where he resides.

It wasn't an easy competition for the men, attempting to complete the 260-mile canoe race inside the 100-hour deadline with a boat that nearly cracked down the center and incurred holes throughout the race.

"I think we swam more of the race than we paddled," Graham said.

The pair finished the race in 98 hours and 56 minutes. But they had to finish. For every mile they completed, they made a commitment to raise funds for wounded warriors, approximately $7,000 to $9,000.

"That was one of the things that kept them going," Boat 338 team captain Art Torres said. "They were going to finish. They were not going to make a commitment to those wounded warriors and let them down."

On Sunday at checkpoint eight in Cuero, Torres mentioned that at times, he felt helpless during the race knowing it was against the rules to assist his friends with repairing their boat.

"There's no losers in this race, though. If you finish, you finish," he said. "This was a real test of their endurance and a test of their friendship. I think they're awesome."

The 49th Safari, dubbed the most challenging canoe race in the world, kicked off Saturday morning in San Marcos with 103 boats entering the river. Only 78 boats finished the race in Seadrift by the 1 p.m. Wednesday deadline.

Reflecting on the race, Keating said his military training may have helped with pushing him and Graham to the finish line.

"In the Marines, you're trained to deal with sleep depravation and pushing yourself beyond what a person normally would," the Arizona fireman said. You adapt and overcome, and I think that's what we did."

Finishing the Water Safari was a first for both Keating and Graham.

Graham hopes to attempt the Safari in the men's solo category next year.



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