Team fights through injuries to finish (w/video)

June 19, 2014 at 1:19 a.m.

SEADRIFT – John West and Ryan Ward paddled toward the finish line at the 52nd Texas Water Safari with all their tanks running on empty.

But the throng of well-wishers, family, friends and supporters quickly erased the four grueling days the pair endured as Westward Dynamite, boat No. 777, crossed the finish at 12:25 p.m., 35 minutes before the 1 p.m. deadline.

“It was emotional,” West said as tears welled up in his eyes. “We struggled from the start. We broke through. We ignored all the pain, but we kept paddling.”

“Our boat almost sunk,” said Ward. “We were last place the last couple of days. It was amazing to cross the finish line where it seemed like that was somewhere we were never going to get to.”

The 33-year-olds from Texas outlasted the 260-mile race that began in San Marcos on Saturday and ended in Seadrift with nothing but pure human muscle.

It was the first safari entry for the novice team, and the pair said it’ll likely be their last.

Right out of the gates, the team got dealt the wrong hand Saturday – the first day of the the “world’s toughest canoe race.”

West, of New Braunfels, dislocated his right shoulder paddling and eventually overworked his left shoulder to compensate for his injury.

Ward, of San Antonio, took the brunt of the work, and he, too, overpaddled and sustained shoulder and back injuries.

“Sunday looked really bad for us,” said West, a vice president of a retail consulting management company.

On the third day, the pair’s boat almost sank twice.

“We were swept downstream, but Ryan was able to get ahold of the rope, and we forced it up and tipped it over.”

Then, they lost one of their oars.

“We found our paddle downstream,” West added. “Then, we almost sunk again.”

And when it couldn’t get any worse, somewhere between the two times their boat sank, Ward felt an alligator touch his left arm.

“We didn’t talk the rest of the night,” said Ward, a quality manager at a courier and exchange company.

Still, they kept paddling.

“We’ve been training so long; we wanted to finish for each other,” Ward said. “And we were raising money for multiple sclerosis, and we didn’t want to let them down.”

The team’s goal was to raise $2,500, and the men raised close to $2,800.

The pair survived the rest of the race with very little drama.

“Some nights, we would sleep for a little while; some nights, only one of us paddled.”

Then, there were the hallucinations.

“We tried to validate some of the things that we were imagining,” said West.

“But we realized it and just laughed it off,” Ward said.

One thing that was constant was motivation from their team captains, Brian West and Dan Conway.

“We really couldn’t do it without the support of our families, people we’re close to, our captains,” said Ward. “They reached out to us, and that made it really hard to quit.”

The pair loaded their aluminum boat with Cheez-Its, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, a waterproof MP3 player, plenty of water, carb drinks and snacks.

A complete meltdown during the first few days was the toughest the team had to endure, they said.

The easiest part?

“Laughing,” West said. “We had no problem making each other laugh.”

All the way to the finish line.



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