When over half of the people at your fitness event have never been in an organized race before, you know you’ve stumbled onto something important. On November 5th, 164 community members joined the San Antonio River Foundation and San Antonio River Authority for River Relay, a competitive kayak and run race on the Mission Reach.
For being the primary water feature culturally, historically and geographically, the San Antonio River south of downtown—called the Mission Reach—remains one of the city’s best kept secrets. This redeveloped section of river can be characterized by outdoor recreation and ecosystem restoration and has opportunities to experience nature that are unheard of in cities as enormous as San Antonio. This is especially true for kayaking. (Yes, you can kayak, canoe and paddleboard on the striking waterway in your very own back yard!)
The River Relay was to created give everyone an opportunity to see the River from a different perspective—on the water. Every racer had a different story of why they decided to be a part of River Relay: two honeymooners who traveled south from Dallas to find adventure on the water, a group of women who drove north from Del Rio for a “girl’s weekend” which kicked off with the race, members from the San Antonio Amputee Association celebrating the life of a departed friend and family member, a family encouraging their children to be active outdoors, and many more. The common thread though each of these stories was the excitement (and a little nervousness for some) of being in an organized race.
The kayaking portion of the race was what made this event truly unique, as River Relay is the only kayaking race on the Mission Reach. Two local kayak vendors donated a total of 45 kayaks to racers, making it possible for that many people to venture out onto the water who otherwise would not have had the means. Though there were some challenging parts, like the cascading canoe chutes that bridged different water levels in the river, nearly every kayaker reached the finish line grinning and generously doling out high-fives. The energy kayakers radiated at accomplishing something new was palpable. That sort of excitement for outdoor recreation is what we hope will diffuse through the community as River Relay racers go back to the Mission Reach on their own, with family and friends, or perhaps in another organized fitness event.
From the decisive and alarming blurt of the air horn signaling the start of the race, to the joyful chants of the Athos elementary cheer squad, to the final exquisite exhalation after the finish line, each racer was part of a soundtrack that will continue to play through their lives.