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76-year-old becomes oldest to finish safari (w/video)

By Julie Garcia
June 17, 2014 at 1:17 a.m.

Roger Zimmerman tries out his sleeping sling as his group does final preparations on their boat for the Texas Water Safari on Wednesday evening in Victoria. The slings are used so the teammates can take short breaks to refresh themselves while the rest of the team continues to paddle.

SEADRIFT - Roger Zimmerman is an ironman, according to his Texas Water Safari teammate Kennith Startz.

"I could not imagine someone who is 76 being able to do the things he did - it just doesn't enter your mind like that," Startz, 50, said.

Zimmerman, a Victoria native who competed in the first safari in 1963, became the oldest person to finish the 260-mile canoe race in its 52-year history.

Zimmerman, Startz, John Valdivia and Santiago Marroquin made up boat No. 3333, "Frankenbarge," which finished the race in 74 hours and 52 minutes. The team arrived in Seadrift about an hour before the awards ceremony started Tuesday afternoon.

Marroquin, who finished his second consecutive safari, said Zimmerman did great on the course, which was more difficult than in previous years.

"It was an incredible run - so memorable," Marroquin said. "He really put up an incredible run for 76 and showed that he has the intestinal fortitude to go."

After the team pulled their boat out of the bay, they stood in line for plates full of fried catfish, coleslaw and potatoes.

Zimmerman said he is very proud to finish his fifth safari.

"It's my last hurrah, definitely," he said. "But then again, I say that after every water safari."

The team full of safari veterans said that this was the most difficult race they can remember.

"The first day was the hardest, but after that, I toughened up," Zimmerman said. "The log jams through Gonzales were tough - basically had to crawl."

Valdivia said the race was challenging on all levels - from flipping out of the boat to a water pump failure to the strong wind in the bay.

"The river and the bay didn't stop throwing punches all the way down," Valdivia said.

"It definitely lived up its name of the 'toughest canoe race,'" Marroquin added.

At one point near the checkpoint in Gonzales, a band of wild hogs swam across the river. The team had to back-paddle to not hit them.

"Those are the cool things you see that you'll never see anywhere else," Valdivia said.

Zimmerman remembers receiving an award for finishing the safari over the age of 40. Now in his mid-70s, he likes that he pushed for the record.

"There's a number of us who tried to push the age limit back," Zimmerman said. "I always thought that because you're old, it doesn't mean you can't be in shape."

Valdivia and Marroquin said Startz was the anchor for the team.

"There's no quit in him; his pace is just go, go go," Marroquin said. "In his words, he doesn't get tired."

This is Startz's ninth finish. He is only one shy of getting in the Texas Water Safari Hall of Fame.

"If they didn't have it, I already would have been out of this stuff," he said. "The insanity is just too much. Every guy wants the perfect race, a clean race. We obviously didn't have one. But we're good; everything came out all right."

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