Two Richardson friends turned a personal adventure into a fundraiser for a favorite charity for military and first responders, paddling mostly non-stop down two Texas rivers for 80 hours and raising more than $10,000 for Carry the Load.
Adam Keller and Philip Athey decided they would tackle the grueling Texas Water Safari, 260-miles of self-inflicted physical abuse that bills itself as “the world’s toughest canoe race.” The event stretches from San Marcos to Seadrift on the Gulf coast. Paddling day and night in the summer heat with only brief stops to replenish supplies and take cat naps, the pair were advised in advance that turning the trip into a fund raiser would help motivate them to keep moving.
Sleep deprivation was the biggest challenge, and both men wanted to quit at times during their 80-hour adventure. They carried the names and photos of fallen military heroes with them. That and the commitments to each other, their families, their team captain and the people who donated to the cause kept them going during the times their will was otherwise lacking.
The idea started innocently enough. One of Athey’s high school friends completed the race and then Athey read a story about it in Texas Monthly magazine.
“We’re going to do this next year,” he told Keller. Besides being friends, the Richardson residents are partners at Atlas Wealth Advisors, a Dallas wealth management firm.
After committing to the trip, Keller spoke of the plan at a family gathering that included a cousin, Cletus Bianchi. It turns out Bianchi did the race in 1994 and still had a boat that would be serviceable for the pair. Bianchi agreed to serve as team captain and it was his suggestion to do a fundraiser to increase the motivation to finish.
Athey and Keller had heard Clint Bruce, co-founder of Carry the Load (CTL), speak and were supporters of the organization that was founded to remind us of the true meaning of the Memorial Day holiday. They also had the blessing of Atlas Wealth Advisors, the wealth management firm where they are partners. They reached out to clients, friends, vendors and their network in the community to rally fund-raising support for CTL.
Yeti, the premium cooler make, provided three coolers to use for supplies at their brief stops along the river, plus a support team that helped chronicle the event.
The constant paddling, heat, insects, portaging around dams, logjams and sleep deprivation worked to sap the will from the pair. Nights were the worst, and typical of the challenge was what occurred on the third and final night. They could see the orange glow of lights from the Invista Plant where their next stop was, but that section of the river was full of switchbacks. They kept paddling, but the lights were a tease and didn’t seem to be any closer.
“I was ready to break down and cry,” Keller said. Finally, they arrived, but Keller exited the boat announcing, in what he described as colorful language, that he was taking a four-hour nap! After food, a brief nap and a pep talk from Bianchi, they were back in the boat for the final run to Seadrift on the Gulf coast, and the finish line.
Looking back, the pair agreed they want to do it again and realize that they were working for a much bigger cause.
“It was fun for us, and heeding the advice to leverage our adventure to aid the community made it even more fulfilling,” Keller said.