Phatwater Kayak Challenge proves to be tough test

Published 12:35 am Sunday, October 14, 2007

NATCHEZ — Eighty-nine boats departed Grand Gulf to take part in the sixth annual Phatwater Kayak Challenge.

This year’s big prize of $1,000 to the first solo kayaker to finish under four hours was not awarded.

Challenge coordinator Keith Benoist blamed the river conditions for the slower times.

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“There was a head wind that slowed everyone down,” Benoist said. “The river is lower than it has been in the past and current was slower.”

The challenges of the mighty Mississippi didn’t stop three-time Olympian Mike Herbert from Rogers Ark. from breaking the current record of 4:22:02 by six minutes.

“This was a grueling event,” Herbert said. “I knew halfway down when the head wind picked up I wasn’t going to be able to do it under four hours.”

Joe and Anne Zellner of Grand Marais, Minn., finished third in their classes.

“This was a great experience for us,” Anne said. “We have really enjoyed our trip.”

Joe and Anne started three months ago and kayaked all the way down to Baton Rouge from Minnesota.

For first-time Phatwater kayaker Kathy Marshall of Pensacola, Fla., placing was not a goal for her, finishing was.

“This is not for the casual kayaker,” Marshall said. “You have to be dedicated in spirit and health.”

Marshall, who lost her leg in a car accident while in the military, is a deputy with Santa Rosa County in Milton Fla.

“I’ve been faced with a lot in my past,” Marshall said. “You have to have the heart of a lion for a trip like this and you can’t be weak in spirit.”

Benoist was pleased with this year’s event, saying he felt like it was an overall success.

“We had tremendous participation and athletes this year,” he said. “There were a lot of first-timers. It was a great turn out.”

With a larger turnout, came new problems and complaints for Benoist.

“We almost grew too fast,” Benoist said. “We had new challenges this year with the river being lower and the need for more volunteers.”

He said they would take the things they learned this year to make next year even better.

“This event has grown every year,” Benoist said. “We look for it to do the same next year.”