TWS: Health risks a reality of race

Julie Garcia By Julie Garcia

June 13, 2014 at 1:13 a.m.

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On one of Kennith Startz's 11 Texas Water Safari attempts, he saw visions of dinosaurs and castles.

At least he thought he did.

He laughs about it now but knows he will likely hallucinate again during his 12th safari which will begin Saturday morning in San Marcos.

While the "world's toughest canoe race" is treasured by most who experience it, the risks involved in the 262-mile competition are real.

Startz is part of a four-man team from Victoria. He and his wife have competed in multiple safaris, and he looks to someday get in the Texas Water Safari Hall of Fame.

"I've seen my family members on the river banks, my kids up in the trees waving at me," he said. "It made me scared because I knew the world wasn't right."

Mental fatigue and confusion aren't the only hazards that paddlers need to watch out for.

Dehydration, hypothermia, overheating and skin sloughing are only a few things that can happen over the course of the race.

Safari board member Bob Spain likened the race to any other endurance event.

"If you continue to paddle past your limit, sleep deprivation will do a number on you," Spain said. "It'd be a lot safer to pull over and get an hour's rest, and you're in better shape."

The first finishers usually cross the finish line at Seadrift around midnight Sunday. The cutoff time is 100 hours.

"We don't have the hottest weather this year, but it's important to take in those fluids while you're out in the hot sun, no shade on the river with a hat on your head," Spain said. "Eat regularly and and drink a quart of water every couple of hours."

Longtime safari participant Roger Zimmerman said that the key to finishing the race is eating and drinking the right amount.

Startz and his teammates will be bringing the bare essentials on their 30-foot canoe.

One of those essentials is a jar of Spiz, which is a blended powder containing carbohydrates, proteins, fatty acids, vitamins and minerals to be mixed with water.

In years past, participants were required to carry all food and water on the canoe with them.

Rules changed last year to expand what the team captains are allowed to give the paddlers at various checkpoints.

According to the Texas Water Safari website, the changes were put into place to assist participants in minimizing the chance of serious illness, injury or fatality.

Another change is increasing the number of team captains to two so they minimize their own danger levels while looking out for their team.

According to the website's Frequently Asked Questions, "As anyone who has ever served as a team captain knows, the race can be almost as hard on the team captain as on the racers. Every team captain is different in her or his ability to withstand heat, sleep deprivation and related concerns. Moreover, getting water, ice and other allowable items to racers can be very important. This rule was changed to allow team captains to take some time to sleep before getting behind the wheel and possibly endangering their own lives or the lives of others."

Zimmerman said the new changes do not take away from the race's challenge.

"It's a tough race any way you do it," he said. "This way, you end up eating better because when you carry it with you, you don't eat properly."

Zimmerman will have 1.9 liters of water mixed with the electrolyte mix that usually lasts him four hours.

Another Victoria participant, John Valdivia, said the changes do not take away from the sense of adventure.

"All the river elements and critters you encounter and the fatigue - that's all still there," Valdivia, who is attempting his third safari, said. "You still have to go out and overcome those challenges. The race is a challenge in and of itself."



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