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John Edwards, clad in Spandex shorts and a torn T-shirt adorned with an airbrushed hog in a canoe, smiled as he paddled down the tea-colored waters of the Waccasassa River, effortlessly hefting his thin frame over the fallen log at the end of the race he’s competed in for 34 years.
“It’s a fun race to do,” the St. Petersburg resident said after coming in first Saturday in the Experienced Class division of the 35th Annual Wild Hog Canoe & Kayak Race in Otter Creek.
Edwards, who has competed every year in the event since 1978, wears the same shirt, now faded and ripped, that he got at his first race. This year, he won with a time of 2:18:37, almost 40 minutes slower than last year, something he attributes to the river’s low water levels.
“It’s never been this low,” he said. “It makes it a lot tougher to handle.”
Matt Shmidt, 26, of Williston, competed in the event for the first time this year, coming in first with partner Justin Maynard in the Recreation Class division in just under three hours. He said the race was a lot of fun, though, he added, the two had to get out and drag their canoe through shallow areas for about half of the journey.
Despite the low levels, boaters in 47 canoes and kayaks raced down the Waccasassa in this year’s event in an effort to raise money for Levy ARC, an organization dedicated to helping the developmentally disabled from the Tri-County Area.
David Petty, commander for Bronson AMVETS Post No. 88, the group that has organized the event for the past seven years, said, “Post 88 does it for LARC, to help the community. We just like to help the community.”
Petty said last year’s event, sponsored by dozens of area businesses, helped raise $11,400 for LARC. “This year, we hope to equal or exceed that.”
Representatives from the event said totals on the amount raised for this year’s event wouldn’t be available for another week or so, though they said the numbers thus far looked hopeful.
Betty Walker, executive director for LARC, said the race is one of two major events that help bring in money each year for the organization. She said she was surprised, considering economic conditions, that last year’s event pulled in so much money—the most so far, in fact.
“We just appreciate everything,” she said speaking for the organization that has been steadily losing state and federal support for its programs over the last few years.
Levy ARC has had to cut staff and now only offers day training for the developmentally disabled, she said. Events like the Wild Hog Canoe & Kayak race are important for LARC, she said.
“Every little bit helps.”