NICH Wins Again; the Results of the Ruta Maya Belize River Challenge
The team from NICH established itself as a force at the start of the four-day Ruta Maya River Challenge race. Covering as much as one hundred and eighty miles, sixty-one teams took off from San Ignacio on Friday and paddled their way to Belize City on Monday morning. NICH would go on to win the race with an eight minute lead between second place winners, Crunch Time, a new comer to the river challenge. News Five’s Duane Moody has the highlights of the four-day event.
Duane Moody, Reporting
NICH wins the 2019 Belikin La Ruta Maya Belize River Challenge. After four gruelling days of canoeing from the foot of the Hawkesworth Bridge in San Ignacio to the Civic Centre in Belize City via the Macal/Belize River, brothers Efrain, Felix and Hener Cruz are repeat champions, beating out some sixty other trios of competing paddlers in the twenty-second edition of the canoe race.
Hener Cruz, Team NICH
“We just wanted to heng with the guys and bring it here to the tape, but when we got into the canal, we saw that we could get away so that’s what we did; we just took it.”
From day-one, NICH was able to create a three-minute, ten seconds gap, making them poised to take the title once again. But the teams of Crunch Time and I.C.J. Referendum Unit were not giving up that easily. Crunch Time had to repair its canoe which broke during the first leg. It was the second longest stretch and Jerry Cante spoke of having to bail out the canoe while paddling to the finish line.
Jerry Cante, Team Crunch Time [File: March 8th, 2019]
“This dah one of the hardest stretch so we knew this stretch would take much energy from all team, not only one team. We gotta go home and work on our canoe because this morning, we had an incident and our canoe break so we gotta go and fix that first before we take any other decision for tomorrow.”
“You think that was what hampered you guys today?”
“Well actually yes, because water was going in and it was too much water for us to be bailing out and so it keep us back a little bit. But you know everything in the race.”
“You guys came right behind NICH; I think it is a three-minute gap. How do you intend to close that in, in the next couple legs?”
“We know a three-minute gap is a lot of time to put on those guys, but nothing is impossible. But we will go and give our all and see what we can do in the last three days.”
…and fully motivated for day-two, Crunch Time would go on to win the longest leg, which ended in Double Head Cabbage. It was a race to the finish line with the I.C.J. Referendum Unit Team; NICH came third. Tareek Thompson says that unlike the other teams which had almost six months to prepare, they were late in getting sponsorship and had only a month and a half of training. Although fatigue with blistered hands, this area is his team’s stomping grounds and they were ready to show it.
Tareek Thompson, I.C.J. Referendum Unit Team
“Basically we had a good start this morning, but like I said, the guys are much more stronger than us. They have more training so that was expected. Today was kinda longish, but we let them get away too far and by the time we tried to chase back, it was too late.”
…and so going into the final day of the competition, NICH led overall by a eight minute gap over Crunch Time and the I.C.J. Referendum Unit teams, who were neck and neck in the race for second place. There was a hiccup reaching the Haulover Creek and it cost the I.C.J. team, but they nevertheless fought to the end. It was an impressive show of sportsmanship and talent by these paddlers who throughout the race demonstrated their tenacity and love for the sport.
“The weather was with us, but basically the headwind was massive coming down to the city. The wind was really hard against us so that made it a little challenging as well.”
Kenrick Daniels, I.C.J. Referendum Unit Team
“We were in third place; the second place team stopped for the service and we couldn’t get across them and NICH just went and they slowed us down and it is hard to overtake in that canal so we couldn’t come around. And we wanted to come around and try to catch them back but the team was in front of us and it was really hard to come around.”
No stranger to the sport is Armin Lopez, who has won ten of the twenty years that he has competed in the canoe competition. Paddling for PACT this year in the male category, Lopez says that his family has several athletes in the sport.
“Will you ever ride in the masters?”
Armin Lopez, Team PACT
“Yes. I won last year [in the masters category] with my dad.”
“You won last year as masters with your dad. And now as well you have children involved in this race?”
“Yes, I have my son paddling with Mister Dean Williams. And I want to say thanks to PACT and all the team that came out because without them…they big you up and make you get strong, you don’t know from where you get strength but thanks to them.”
Slim and Trim Like Guava Limb, which had the youngest paddlers, ages fifteen and eleven, won the inter-mural category which is for students between fourteen and twenty-four. They also placed twelfth overall out of the sixty-one teams that competed this year. Duane Moody for News Five.