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Saturday morning, Tara Mace got an unwelcome phone call. Her partner for the Wild Hog Canoe Race, the 31st Annual adventure to benefit Levy Association for Retarded Citizens (LARC) couldn't make it.
Tara was stuck - where to find a partner at 6 a.m. on race day? She called her mom.
Theresa McFarland answered her daughter's call and agreed to give it a whirl.
"I hung up the phone and thought, 'I don't have any idea what I'm doing,'" she said.
"I kind of twisted her arm," Mace admitted.
The two got an early start and put in an honest day's work - in the water at 8:47 a.m., out at 1:54 p.m., spending just over five hours wrangling the big yellow sea kayak over the gnarliest obstacles and lowest waters this venerable adventure race has seen in years.
"I'm glad I did it," McFarland said, after she got back on dry land.
She had plenty of company. Experienced racers George and Butch Garner brought a crew of novices with them - George is a teacher of law studies at Bloomingdale High School in Brandon, and he brought four of his students up to tackle the race.
Hailey Bigley and Josh Fox took one boat; Bigley's best friend Sarah Szatmary and Frank DeCellis took the other. George Garner chuckled with satisfaction as he waited, with Bigley's dad Cory Cathcart, for the kids' boats to come in - two to three hours after he and his dad finished.
"This is a lot of fun for me," Garner said. "I tell them I'll spot them an hour handicap, and they always think they're going to lasso me and kick my butt."
He cackled again, then added, "It's a great experience for them, and since the race benefits a good cause, I sign off on their community service hours."
Organizers from AmVets Post 88 in Bronson said this year's race had 51 boats. That's about the same as last year, but remarkable considering the down economy and only about 20 boats pre-registered two weeks before the race.
"We always have room to improve, but I think we were better organized this year and had a really good event," said Margie McGarva and Sandy Russell of AMVETS' Auxiliary.
One thing that can always be counted on at Wild Hog is the unpredictability of the Waccasassa. Twice in the last four years, the river was so high that racers were rewarded with exceptionally fast times, as well as the gift of no finish line obstacle. One year, in fact, the log simply floated away the night before the race.
This year, due to the exceptionally low water, the newcomers in the 11 novice boats were treated to an astonishing number of portages in the top half of the race.
Further, finish line onlookers had the gleeful task of telling incoming boats - their exhausted paddlers thinking they were home free - that they still had to get themselves and their boats over the log before they could cross the finish line.
Some paddlers laughed as though they had expected such an absurd finale. Others shrugged with resignation. At least one boat's crew were split up at the finish, as one racer decided the log was just one indignity too many.
Once on shore, though, all was forgiven. Every racer got a hot sandwich, deliciously greasy fries and a sweet drink to help them recover. Folks danced to music by A Touch of Class Entertainment, David Woods and Black Dawg Down while magician Donovan gently cut a little girl's arm off, then restored it seamlessly.
Last year's Wild Hog race allowed AmVets organizers to give LARC just over $6,700. AmVets member Dave Hutcherson, a gifted woodworker who makes the prize paddles, said members met recently and agreed not to begin extracting their own expenses until $6,800 had been allotted to LARC.
"After that, we'll take out 30 percent for our expenses," he said.
LARC Executive Director Betty Walker, who attended with several LARC employees, clients, and her father U.L. Gamble, thanked AmVets for the effort they had put into the race.
"We always need all the help we can get," she said.
Top three finishers by class (complete results at http://wildhog.wetpaint.com)
1- John Edwards
2- Butch and George Garner
3- Francis Langley and Mark Hackert
1- Brint Adams
2- Ed Francavilla
3- Eric Makus
1- Ace and Christine Haddock
2- Maribeth and Drew Davis
3- Shawn Martin and Jeanette Rankin
1- Daniel and Justin Maynard
2- Ned Johnson
3- Ryan Feagle and Zachary Estevez
1- Gretchen Reardon and Molly Hanchey
2- Raymond Powers, Sr. and Raymond Powers, Jr.
3- Don Martin and Christian Harrelson
1- Emily Gore and Brooke Williams
2- Jennifer Bray and Christa Kopman
3- Tammy Arrington and Leanna Goolsby