Port Lavaca native thrives on naysayers
June 12, 2012 at 1:12 a.m.
Updated June 13, 2012 at 1:13 a.m.
SEADRIFT - Naysayers told Jake Ondreas he didn't have a chance to finish the world's toughest boat race. Some said a snowball would more likely survive the Texas heat.
The 30-year old Port Lavaca native let the criticism roll like the water drops on a paddle. It didn't stick.
"I loved the negative comments they kept me going," he said. "Quitting was never an option."
When Ondreas crossed the finish line Tuesday evening, he reached a new milestone. His city received the victory.
"You've done Port Lavaca proud, you made it," said Ben Anderson, a family friend.
Ondreas and his partner canoed 260 miles in 83 hours with three hours of sleep for the Texas Water Safari. There were 135 canoes at the beginning, and as of 9 p.m. Tuesday there were 100 remaining.
Participants travel down the waterways from San Marcos hope to finish in Seadrift. Brad Ellis, 30, died trying to endure the race Monday evening. His death was the first fatality in the event's 50-year history.
"It was a shock to us all," said Harvey Babb, the safari's communication director.
Paddlers, including Ondreas, heard about the incident on the water. His heart went out the victim's family.
Stacy Greer , from Austin, said he encountered God during one of his 11 safari races. He was sucked under a low water crossing and almost drowned.
Despite his own close encounter, the 40-year-old father of three gets back in the river each year. He gets an emotional high making it to the finish line.
"The only thing I know more glorious that I know of is being there when you're own baby is born," he said.
Ondreas decided after his milestone birthday that he was ready for a new challenge and enlisted some familial help.
"I was the only one dumb enough to do it with him," said Casey Blinka, Ondreas' cousin.
The close-knit duo practiced for at least four months.
They've experience highs and lows and even argued, but Blinka had an epiphany - getting into arguments was counterproductive. Some disagreements reached a stalemate.
"I think we both just got too tired to talk," Blinka said.
Both first-time competitors said the race taught them a lot about one another and themselves. Each one is open to trying next year. Although Ondreas, may be open for a new challenge.
"I'm going to go jump out of a plane next year," he said.