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Victorians work together to achieve historic performance (w/gallery, video)

By Taylor Mitchell
May 3, 2014 at 12:03 a.m.

Ken Startz, left, and John Valdivia, both of Victoria, work to haul their boat, Frankenbarge, up the banks of the Guadalupe River near The PumpHouse Riverside Restaurant and Bar at Riverside Park after completing the Texas River Marathon on Saturday. The race was more than 34 miles long running from Cuero to Victoria.

The Texas River Marathon is labeled as "The Prelim" race for the Texas Water Safari, serving as a warm-up competition to the world's toughest canoe race.

However, it's just a taste of what paddlers can expect in a month when the starting whistle sounds in San Marcos.

"Well, this is 34 miles, and the Water Safari is 260 miles," longtime competitor Roger Zimmerman said about how the Texas River Marathon helps prepare paddlers for the Texas Water Safari. "So, not a whole lot."

Just over 100 boats competed in Saturday's Texas River Marathon. The race began at 9 a.m. at Cuero's River Haven RV Park and traversed a small portion of the Guadalupe, finishing at the boat ramp at The PumpHouse Riverside Restaurant and Bar at Riverside Park.

The first boat - a six-man team - came across the finish line at 12:58 p.m. The second boat came in roughly 30 minutes later. Zimmerman's team, Boat 171, finished the race in roughly 4 hours, 26 minutes and maintained an average speed between 6.2-6.5 miles per hour.

However, for the crew of Boat 171, speed and times aren't the most important goal they hope to accomplish.

"The main accomplishment is to get Roger down and have him be the oldest person to finish the safari," John Valdivia, of Victoria, said. "If we can get down in decent shape, maybe not only have him be the oldest, but also one of the fastest at that age."

Zimmerman, 76, became the oldest person to finish the Texas River Marathon on Saturday.

"It was great," Zimmerman said after completing the race. "These guys paddled me down here."

"It's an honor to paddle with Roger Zimmerman. He's a safari legend," Ken Startz, of Victoria, said. "It means everything to us to get him down the river and into the record books. That's what it's all about."

Zimmerman's first Texas Water Safari was in 1963, and since 1995, he's participated in the race 15 times, including last year, when he was unable to finish the race.

Throughout the years he's competed, Zimmerman has seen and done pretty much everything there is. However, Saturday he did something he had never done before.

"I have never been on a four-man team before," he said. "This is the first time. I've only ever done it solo or on a two-man team."

The extra paddlers should help ensure Zimmerman becomes the oldest person to finish the world's toughest canoe race.

Low river levels make for tough paddling

The Guadalupe River stage at Victoria has been below 5 feet since April 29 and is projected to drop all the way to 4 feet before rising slightly, according to the Texas Water Safari website. This means that river levels could be at a record low when the Texas Water Safari starts June 14.

Low river levels make paddling tougher and leads to longer race times.

"It just slows you down so much and takes more effort to maintain your speed," Valdivia said. "In that respect, it was a tough run."

Certain canoes and kayaks are designed for low river levels, but the crew of Boat 171 doesn't plan on changing boats.

"What we're trying to accomplish with Roger is stability and safety," Valdivia said. "We sacrificed speed for safety. We want to make sure Roger is in good health by the time we get to Seadrift."

The water safari is much more than just a physical challenge. It's also a mental one, and paddlers know the low river levels will make the 260-mile journey all the more difficult.

That could have an effect on the mental aspect of the race.

"If you've done the race enough times, you come to grips with it," Startz said. "You just paddle. You can't think about it. If you start to think about the low water level, it just wears on your mind. You have to just paddle from checkpoint to checkpoint."

The Texas Water Safari will start in San Marcos on June 14, and paddlers will have 100 hours to complete the 260-mile journey.



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