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Spectators, officials wait for racers to arrive at finish line

By Jessica Priest
June 10, 2013 at 1:10 a.m.

Sam Thiede, a race official with the Texas Water Safari, works in a quick nap as the time between teams finishing the race turns into hours. With nothing else to do on the hot, humid bay front, sleep seemed like a good option.

SEADRIFT - Borrowed binoculars in hand, Joyce Heit scanned the horizon.

She hoped that at any moment now a small speck on the San Antonio Bay would materialize into a canoe bobbing against the waves.

The 68-year-old did not know anyone racing in the prestigious Texas Water Safari, but it did not matter.

She has biked six blocks to that spot for more than a decade now to welcome the racers to the small, rural community.

She was just itching for a chance to rush to the water and congratulate them on completing the last leg of their journey, something she couldn't fathom achieving herself.

"I'm scared of snakes, alligators and any kind of bug. If I get in deep water, I panic," she said, chuckling.

"We always say, 'Come on! You're looking good!' Boy, once they hear that, they come on," she said, describing the men and women who hoist their long, slender boats up and out of the water. "They just like fall down because they are so tired."

C.J. Hall, a Texas Water Safari organizer living in San Marcos, knows all too well how those racers feel.

He joined the spectators and exhausted participants, asking them about their blisters and waiting hours in between the teams' arrivals.

By about 2:30 p.m., the 13th boat had crossed the finish line. When it was reaching 6 p.m., the 14th boat was not in sight.

Hall, 50, completed the course last year.

It took he and his partner, who lost 18 pounds after finishing, more than 99 hours to make the trek.

He remembered meeting spectators at the most random of places and feeling encouraged.

He said the skilled know when to cheer and know when to keep quiet.

Onlookers should be quiet as racers concentrate on making port at a dam about 3 miles from the Palmetto Park checkpoint. It's very steep and dangerous there, he said.

"If you fall there, they'll be pulling the body out," he said grimly.

Hall said it's unusual for Seadrift residents to sit at the finish line, like Heit.

But he changed that a bit last year. Then, he was the first native Seadrift resident to compete in the Texas Water Safari in some 20 years.

His friends, of course, were not going to miss it.

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