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Wild Hog Canoe Race enjoys record turnout

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By Sean Arnold

Though the ride never gets any easier, the numbers keep growing.

The Wild Hog Canoe Race continues to draw new participants to the charity event – a grueling 15-mile trek down the Waccasassa River, where canoers and kayakers paddle, drag, lift, wade and swim their way past snakes and alligators from six miles west of Bronson to the Waccasassa Bridge at U.S. Highway 19 near Gulf Hammock. The 40th Anniversary edition Saturday was no different.

All of the funding, thanks to support by more than 70 sponsors, goes directly to LARC, which serves Levy County residents with disabilities. The amount of funds raised this year, which WHCR president and race coordinator Keith Maynard expects could be a record total, will be announced in a week or two.

“It’s getting better and better every year, just thanks to the sponsors and participants,” Maynard said. “We do it as a ministry, because l feel like the Lord was calling me to do this. We don’t take any credit for anything.”

The event included a collection of vendors with food and merchandise and and a playground area with inflatable bounce houses and a mechanical bull ride for children. There’s also an auction following the race.

A zip line was added this year which proved popular.

“Man, that thing never stopped,” Maynard said. “We had 15 of the LARC clients there and all of them but three rode it. They absolutely loved it. It was a huge hit.

“Each year we try to do a little something different just to keep people excited and keep them coming out.”

The crowd was also entertained by the Orange Blossom Ramblers band.

Maynard said 133 boats were in competition, breaking last year’s record of 124. Participants said the first segment of the race was particularly tough, and made even more difficult by the lower water levels. Competitors have to lift their canoes and climb over a couple of strategically-placed logs near the finish for one final obstacle.

“Whew! It was rough,” said John Davies, who was paired with his daughter Margaret Davies for their first time competing at the event. “It was a lot of fun.”

“I didn’t expect so many obstacles so early, so it was way tougher than I thought,” said first-timer Joe Harding, who was riding with his nephew, second-timer Adrian Walsh.

“The water was pretty low and you’d have to get out every few hundred yards,” said Cason Werner, who won the Youth Division with his brother Seth Werner.

Even for the more experienced, like nine-year WHCR veteran Brook Mercier, the route was no easier.

“It took 3 ½ hours and there were lots of places that were pretty shallow, a lot of rocks, where you had to get out,” said Mercier, who shared a canoe with Chad Overman. “After I did it a couple of times, I couldn’t miss it.”

It was Katie Norris’ fifth time competing.

“I feel like it gets harder every single year,” said Norris, who paddled with second-time participant Sidney Bray. “I think to myself, ‘Why do I keep doing this?’”

“No pain, no gain,” said Todd Reibling, who canoed with his daughter Meghan. “I’m glad they had a good showing. This is great stuff. We’re trying to get more and more people involved because it’s such a great event.”

The top 10 overall fastest finishers: Edwards (One-Man Canoe Division, 2:18:50); Perron (Men’s Kayak, 2:23:22); Cooper (Men’s Kayak, 2:24:16); Maynard & Schmidt (Experienced Division, 2:25:02); Adams (Senior Kayak, 2:30:35); Keown (Men’s Kayak, 2:37:03); Hernandez (Men’s Kayak, 2:39:05); Neilson & McGowan (Experienced, 2:45:58); Garner & Garner (Experienced, 2:46:12; and Francavilla (Men’s Kayak, 2:46:17).

Division winners included: Trimm & Quincey (Women’s Canoe, 3:07:43); Adams (Senior Kayak, 2:30:35); Senior Canoe (Ray & Murph, 4:15:16); Clemmer & Allen (Parent/Youth, 3:11:06); Francavilla (Women’s Kayak, 2:52:13); Edwards (One-Man Canoe, 2:18:50); Frerick & Williams (Mixed Division, 2:52:58); Perron (Men’s Kayak, 2:23:22); Maynard & Schmidt (Experienced, 2:25:02); Farstall & Butterworth (Recreation, 2:48:18); Werner & Werner (Youth, 3:25:05).

The event’s Platinum Sponsors included: Toni & Jim Collins; Bill & Shirley Wade; Smith Law Firm LLC; Smith Asset Management Co. LLC; Wade Custom Homes; Pepsi-Karen Connelly; AirSign Aerial Advertising; Coast to Coast Tiling. Gold Sponsors were: County Commissioner Mike Joyner; Jim King Realty, Inc.; Gordon & Candy Swaggerty; Bird Insurance Group, LLC; Ross Hammock Ranch; Randy Stefanelli Insurance Agency Inc.; Owens Welding; Central Fla. Electric Cooperative; Chiefland Rotary Club; Flyrite Banners; Jerry Lawrence; C & L Home Maintenance; Mitch’s Gold & Diamonds; and the Blackham Family. Silver Sponsors included: Jerome & Becky Maynard; Levy School Superintendent Jeff Edison; Art’s Gatorok; Amvets Suwannee river Post 422; Dunnellon Termite & Pest Control; Amvets Post 88; and Carl Roof Inc.

There were also more than 30 Bronze Sponsors.