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Families rally to refuel racers (w/video)

By Sara Sneath
June 15, 2014 at 1:15 a.m.

A water jug flies onto the Victoria boat ramp from boat No. 167 as captain Kristin Daniel races to clean and resupply the boat during the Texas Water Safari. Daniel and Heather Heaton are the only people allowed to give the men  supplies at each checkpoint during the 262-mile race.

Pit stops along the Texas Water Safari look slightly like a NASCAR tire change, if the whole family was invited.

Sunday afternoon in Riverside Park, team captains Kristin Daniel and Heather Heaton flung water bottles out of team Rainmaker's 40-foot, six-man canoe while a paddler waved to his baby and had a quick chat with his teenage daughter about whether she could drive the family car.

"There's probably 10 to 12 people helping us. And we don't get much sleep because they're going so fast. All of these guys are just helping," Daniel said of the family members supporting the paddlers.

The Texas Water Safari doesn't offer a monetary prize. The reward comes in the form of stories told over and over again along the banks of the Guadalupe River and the pride of propelling a raft 262 miles with human muscle. It's a pride carried not only by the men and women in the boat but those who are there to give them food - or food-like substances - and water.

Daniel has been a team captain for more than 15 years. Her husband, Jay Daniel, has been involved in the race off and on since 1985.

"Bragging rights. That's really what it's about. It's just we love all the people that are involved. It's like one big family hanging out at the river together," Daniel said.

Heaton's new to the role of team captain. The three paddlers under her care are drinking their nutrients in the form of an energy drink mix called Spiz.

As team captain, Heaton replenishes the paddlers under her care with Spiz, Vitalyte and cool towels.

"We've done a lot of real smooth hand-offs. Kristin went under once. But it's whatever you can do to survive," Heaton said. "Sometimes, the boat smells like urine. So, I got a whiff of that once or twice today, but it comes with the job."

Heaton's fiance, Brandon Stafford, grew up watching his dad race the Texas Water Safari.

"He's probably raced more than 20 times. He started back in the early '80s. I watched him and followed the race as a kid," Stafford said.

Stafford has participated in the race seven times. Last year, his team placed third. This year, he hopes to take second. On Sunday evening, his team was in second place coming into Riverside Park.

"It's a big deal in our family. We have a 6-year-old, and it's a given he's not getting out of it. We're going to be doing this forever," Heaton said.



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