|At the beginning of the race, speed and determination combined to set apart the masters! (Photo: Linda Searle, Seasports Belize)|
|Paddlers race past the temporary wooden bridge, which connects San Ignacio to Santa Elena Towns. Firemen demonstrate the capabilities of their hoses during this event, forming a water arc to connect San Ignacio to Santa Elena Town. (Photo courtesy of Eve's Computer Services in Santa Elena Town.) |
The tenth annual La Ruta Maya Belize River challenge culminated in a dramatic finish at the BelCan Bridge in Belize City on Monday. Team Belize Bank made the winning stride over the Belize Natural Energy (BNE) team to win this extreme endurance event as well as the overall championship. Team Belize Bank has now repeated history as this is the second consecutive race they have won. Known as the biggest major sporting event in Belize, the La Ruta Maya River Challenge saw 93 teams of three paddlers go head to head in an intense four-day, one hundred and seventy-five mile canoe race. The teams endured hours of grueling pain and tested their stamina, but what a spectacular event it was as thousands of fans and spectators came out to witness the race, here is the story.
The madness began on Friday, March 9th from beneath the historic Hawkesworth Bridge in San Ignacio and ended on Monday, March 12th at the BelCan Bridge in Belize City. By seven a.m., two hundred and seventy-nine (279) men and women in ninety-three (93) canoes and dories were lined up awaiting the starting signal…and they were off!
Enthusiasts and die hard fans stood in awe and excitement following the race as the teams took on the perilous river course and race to the finish. Day one found the teams making a dash for an early lead to be the first to arrive at the four station prizes that were marked along the trail. Five hours and forty-nine miles after the starting gun, came the final sprint of day one at the Banana Bank Lodge. Once again it was between Belize Bank and B.N.E and once again it went to Armin Lopez and Daniel and Amado Cruz of team Belize Bank. Taking third place were Jerry Rhaburn, Sheldon and Nalbert Seguro of team Fruta Bomba. With the first day under their belt, these paddlers enjoyed a very delicious meal and some much needed rest and relaxation at their stay with the helpful staff at Banana Bank Lodge.
Bright and early at 6:30am on Monday, the enduring canoeists once again hit the river for a grueling sixty-mile paddle to Bermudian Landing. But the second day’s competition was not without controversy. A false start at Burrell Boom that was not corrected until many boats had exhausted themselves well downriver, left many teams feeling frustrated. When order was gained and the real start got underway the canoes were racing the Belize River waters for the major station prize at the Boom Bridge. “Ah deh yah again and what” took that popular prize beating its leaders Belize Bank and Belize Natural Energy by seconds. The close race continued down the slower reaches of the river which, many teams claimed it difficult to paddle, before turning into the Haulover Creek and to the finish line. Spectators waited for the canoes to come in and finally teams were spotted coming from a distance. Finally, making a mad dash to win and taking this year’s La Ruta Maya 2007 Belize River challenge crown was team Belize Bank consisting of leader Armin Lopez, Amado and Daniel Cruz. A close second was team Belize Natural Energy, paddlers were Efrain, Felix and Elmer Cruz. Third place went to the Fruta Bomba team, the official time and stats from all classes are uncertain as of press time, but a full report of the teams and final times will be published next week.
The Belize Bank team took home the coveted Kinich Ahau (Maya Sun God) trophy and a round trip ticket to Texas among other prizes. La Ruta Maya River Challenge is the second longest canoe race in the world and the largest spectator event in the country. Congratulations to the winners, organizers and fans for making this years challenge such a classic.
The “Jon Kunu” Ruta Maya Experience
The following is an account of the experience from one team that participated from our friendly sister island of Caye Caulker. Ali Ifield, veteran to the game, and her trusty companions Mike Searle and John Searle took the Belize River challenge and shared their experience, The Sun got the scoop from this team’s perspective, and when it was all said and done, this brave and resilient team paddled their way to a comfortable third place in the Masters division.
|Arriving at Boom on the afternoon of the third day. (Photo courtesy of Linda Searle)|
|"They did it!" Team "Jon Kunu": Ali Ifield, Michael Searle and John Searle complete the race at an impressive third place in the Masters category. (Photo courtesy of Linda Searle) |
Sponsored by Sea Sports Belize Ifeild and the Searle brothers made up team “Jon Kunu”. Ali who is a pro when it comes to extreme challenges and events entered the Masters division in the race for the first time. Fearing the unexpected, Ali stated her experience this time around went very well and to much of her surprise was another invigorating one. “The race was great, our team consisted of experienced paddlers, the river was calm and high at most times and we were pumped and focus to make things happen. It was nice to have people that I could work with very well, -without having all that team tension- so that’s always good. Although the second day we were a bit frustrated because of a false start, we did manage to beat many others and placed third and we’re happy with it.” Although they were gunning to beat out the “Grumpy old men” team, or the Texas boys, Ali jokes and says “guess they were grumpier than us and paddled faster” as they were a little ahead of them. Ali and the Searle brothers endured 2 days of tough competition but they say they did better than they thought, albeit, it was in the Masters. But when asked about the false start and how it affected them, Ali stated, “this false start took a lot out of us and the other teams that had already started, we were a bit mad but we kept our composure. We knew we had to get the ball rolling again so we moved back and waited until the sound of the gun and then proceeded.” When the real start did get underway at the shot of a gun, some two hours later, canoes once again made a mad dash for the major station prize at Boom Bridge. One of the things Ali recalls that made the adventure even better were the cheering crowds whom were very supportive and gave them the extra push to finish. “It was great to hear them say your team name and shouting words of encouragement, we used that as fuel to keep going. People rooting for you is always a good thing” When asked what was the biggest obstacle throughout the race, she stated, “the last day was most grueling, but since I had entered this race a couple times I knew the river path like the back of my hand. And, our canoe did not tip over like it did in past years, so I did not have to take a swim in the river, (chuckles). Although we had only a short time for training and preparation we did good, imagine if we had had more practice.” At the finish, a personal best for Ifield, the score master clocked them at 20 or 21 hours to complete the race. What’s next for Ali? Well, this daring woman says she is “back on the saddle” and is hoping to participate in the singles division in the Eco-challenge race that is up and coming in April. That’s a lot of guts for one lady, that’s for sure…..you go girl, you make all of us proud!!!
Team “Jon Kunu” would like to take the opportunity to thank its sponsor Sea Sports Belize, the support crew; Linda Searle and “Nazi”, Henderson Brothers, Rescue Teams, Coast Guards, its organizers and the cheering crowds who made the four day event an energy packed spectacular.