SEADRIFT — Veronica Sosa used to say someone could not pay her to race alone in the 260-mile Texas Water Safari.
But early Tuesday morning, the 49-year-old Austin resident paddled to the the finish line in Seadrift all by herself.
“I’ve grown up as an only child, so I thought it would be kind of a challenge for me to go down the river alone because I don’t like being alone,” she said. “But what I found is that we have such an amazing community of paddlers that you’re never really alone.”
Sosa’s canoe was among more than 100 that made it to the finish line in time for the awards banquet Tuesday afternoon. Rain pounded on the roof of the Beach Front Pavilion as racers and team captains shared beer, water and seafood like one big family.
“We have 111 boats in and 33 still on the river,” said event director Allen Spelce about 1 p.m.
But within an hour, the banquet had paused twice so everyone could welcome two more boats into Seadrift with a standing ovation and roar of applause.
Participants took turns telling stories and thanking their supporters as Spelce announced and honored every team that had finished with plaques and patches.
Sosa placed first in the Women’s USCA C-1 division and 84th overall. She has had six starts and four finishes since 2013.
“As a young adult I was never athletic; I didn’t start doing things until I was in my late 30s, so this is all really new to me,” she said. “I am motivated by other women who are older than me and do things like this, like, ‘Wow, okay, I can do that.’
“The women that are here are very supportive and encouraging.”
Don Zeek, 64, of Dickinson, was honored with a special plaque by his family for completing the race for his 10th and likely last time.
He said he was first convinced by his 16-year-old daughter to participate in 2000. Since then, he has raced with six of his nine children.
“All of them, except for this one, I’ve done with just my children,” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed it.”
Zeek raced with his daughter, Rebekah Zeek-Feaster, and David Walliser. The three took 12th place in the Unlimited Division and 30th overall.
“This one I did with an ‘adopted’ son,” Zeek said. “We had the best finish I’ve ever had.”
More boats entered the Texas Water Safari this year than ever before and a record number finished, Spelce said. Only 32 (18%) of the boats that started the race dropped out or were disqualified this year, compared to previous years when the drop-out rate of 50-60% was normal.
“We just had a great combination of high water, record temperatures for hot on Saturday and Sunday, but relatively mild Sunday night, Monday and Tuesday,” Spelce said. “There also weren’t a whole lot of obstacles in the river this year; most of the dams were open. Every year people also seem to get a little bit faster and stronger.”
NOTE: As of 10:10 p.m., six boats were still on the river, Spelce said.