'World's Toughest Boat Race' competitors start endurance test

JR Ortega By JR Ortega

July 10, 2010 at 2:10 a.m.

A group of racers go over the Rio Vista Dam and scramble to get back in their canoe Saturday during the Texas Water Safari.

A group of racers go over the Rio Vista Dam and scramble to get back in their canoe Saturday during the Texas Water Safari.

SAN MARCOS - Sammy Prochaska stood with an air of certainty by canoe No. 12.

While others scrambled, he watched the light fog lift and unveil the mosquito-infested, murky waters of the San Marcos River on Saturday morning.

The 43-year-old La Salle resident stayed behind chatting with his on-land team captain as 98 other teams sat ready in the river for the 260-mile Texas Water Safari canoe race from San Marcos to Seadrift. Billed as the "World's Toughest Boat Race," the safari is an endurance test that must be completed within 100 hours.

For the third time, Prochaska has decided to go solo.

"Hopefully, I've got a piece of food for every hour," Prochaska said as he made final preparations by stuffing items in several compartments of his hand-built canoe.

Bags of Combos, Nutter Butters, granola bars, water, electrolyte replacement solutions and other food and items added an extra 20 pounds of weight to the one-man canoe.

Behind his seat are several disposable mini toothbrushes, horse liniment, which provides relief to his buttocks from the long paddling ride; castor oil, for sprains and strains; and hand lotion, just to keep moisturized.

Prochaska has done several races, but it's usually in a team, he said.

The first time he went solo, he won the race.

This year, he's not so sure, he said.

"You get tired and your brain doesn't work as good and you're telling yourself you've got to keep moving," he said. "It all kind of adds up. I can't really say there is one thing that's harder than the rest."

While Prochaska continued to ready his canoe with all the tools needed, Jenny Garza, from Round Rock, walked the river's bank with her two children thinking about the communication she won't be able to have with her husband, David, as he heads into the water with one partner.

"It's nerve-racking," she said. "We have two young children and I can't talk with him."

This isn't his first time doing the safari, but she still gets a bit nervous before he takes off on the trek, she said.

The only connection she has with her husband is through the team captain, who keeps the lines of communication very open with Jenny.

"I know he's in good hands," she said.

For other racers, like soloist Joe Fields from San Leon, the journey takes on a much deeper meaning.

Last year, Fields did not make it to the finish line.

This year, that's going to change, he said.

"It's just a challenge," he said as he made last-minute inspections on his canoe. "It's not a race for me."

By Cottonseed Rapids, one of the obstacles outside of San Marcos, Prochaska had gone from almost the back of the starting lineup to one of the first top 10.

Before Prochaska set paddle on the river, his bar was set to be in the top 20 overall.

But with all the good paddlers out there, he said, he's not willing to etch anything in stone just yet.

"If I make it through the first day, my chances are looking better," he said in a reassuring tone. "We'll see how that works out."



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