The Evolution of the La Ruta Maya River Challenge; Day One Complete
Sixty teams registered and competed in the first leg of the Belikin La Ruta Maya River Challenge. At seven a.m. sharp, the canoes paddled down the winding Macal River for fifty miles to end at Banana Bank. With that, day-one of the four-day race was completed and Team Core out of San Ignacio captured the lead. The largest race in its twenty-three-year history featured one hundred and four teams, but that number has tapered off to about sixty teams annually. The organizers are now looking to introduce foreign athletes to the competition in the future. Annually, the canoe race creates entrepreneurial opportunities to the villages along the river bank. News Five’s Duane Moody reports.
Duane Moody, Reporting
Team Core from San Ignacio wins the first leg of the twenty-third annual La Ruta Maya River Challenge.
Jerry Cante, Team CORE
“We were working out , but the height of the river was different. Last week, the river went up, so it was very difficult for us; we weren’t use to the river this height.”
“Unu win with a small margin. Talk to us about what is the game plan going into tomorrow?”
“We’ll just relax and discuss what’s the plan, but for sure, we will go out and race smart.”
Juan Polanco, Acting Director, Team CORE
“We have a love for the river. When the spirits of our ancestors see what we are doing for the river, those spirits will come up from the river, go into the powerful arms of these paddlers, give them push and that’s how we are going to win.”
Proving to be a formidable opponent is the Lucas Oil Team, which lost by seconds to Team CORE in the first leg. Despite a rocky start, the team paddled strong to catch up to the leading teams; they later paced themselves to lose to the top team by a narrow margin after the fifty-mile stretch. Clayton Cab says that the plan is for Lucas Oil to win both overall and in the mixed category for which that second team is in first place.
Clayton Cab, Team Lucas Oil
“It was anybody’s race today; it was just a matter of staying with the crowd. We came out bad, so we had to chase all the way to Iguana Creek and from there we just decided to start pacing so that we could finish the race.”
“What’s your strategy going into tomorrow?”
“Well tomorrow; we should be able to rest, the river’s high so we should take it a little bit easier. So we will try to rest cause tomorrow is long. This year was really tough in the training; its added expense but we managed. The river is high today; that is different.”
“So your anticipations. You think Lucas Oil is going to win it both overall as well as in the mix?”
“That’s the plan. We cannot say anything. The race is open yet; we have three more days to go.”
But what about defending champions NICH? Well today, unfortunately they came in the top six, after coming in over five minutes after the first canoe. Alexander Cruz and his teammate held down the forte as their third teammate is ill and could not make it to the end. While the time difference in huge, Cruz says that anything is possible.
Alexander Cruz, Team NICH
“The partner sick about one week ago so today he couldn’t make it. He only did half of the stage.”
“So this obviously puts you guys at a disadvantage…”
“We were coming two-man so we slowed down a lot.”
“So, are you admitting defeat one time? You are throwing in the hat? Because how do you guys go forward? As only two paddlers?”
“Well we just came in one piece and we have three more days so we will see what happens in those three days. Maybe we can make up the time.”
Taking up the canoe challenge is an expensive venture and for the first time this year, CORE, a community-based N.G.O. out of the west has partnered with the Department of Environment to field the leading group—at least at this stage. Acting Director Juan Polanco says that they are sharing in the environmental awareness and the cultural heritage of the sporting event.
“We need to say that if we love our community, if we love our river, we have to keep it clean and that is why we are promoting keep the river clean, avoid the litter. If you don’t need to use something, don’t use it. This is a good scenario, this is about the river. And these guys have been doing a good job and we decided to work with them because they know the river.”
“This is the first time that you guys are participating?”
“This is the first time. This is a community-based organization in Cayo. It all came up when we had the problems with the New River up north. We noticed that the Macal River is going in the same direction and so we decided to do something and that’s what we are doing, save the Macal River.”
Roberto Harrison, Vice President, La Ruta Maya Planning Committee
“Five six months of planning coming to fruition today. Clearly it also saddens us beucase the passing of my cousin, one of the founders of the race, Richard Harrison, quite an interesting, innovative event that he put together twenty-three years ago.”
Vice President of the La Ruta Maya Planning Committee, Roberto Harrison says that they are planning to take it a step further to possibly attract more foreign athletes to compete in the Belizean race.
“From three years ago, when we partnered with RSV, to see where we can take this race internationally. I think we still have a lot to do with it. We have to improve our laws perhaps, there is the aspect of antidumping that follows us, there is logistical arrangements that we have to make; there is quite a bit of work on the river that we have to do in terms of safety and rescue. So there is a lot of things we need to put in place clearly that would allow us to go international because there are a lot of other international races around the region that attracts paddlers from around the world. So I think we have that opportunity still on us to see how we can get foreigners to come and do this race and race against our best.”
The event has grown over the twenty-three years to crate entrepreneurial opportunities for the communities where the race ends and has also evolved to include new technology in the race. Duane Moody for News Five.