Kayaking on the Missouri River in the summer heat is less than ideal. Imagine doing it for three consecutive days with little sleep, blistered hands and 340 miles. RNs Anqi Dai and Jason Potts finished the MR (Missouri River) 340 race in 2017 and plan to participate again this summer. Like last year, they will start at Kaw Point in Kansas on July 24 and have 88 hours to reach the finish line in St. Charles, MO.
Both men competed for the first time last year. While the odds were against them, they both finished, but how they prepared differed tremendously.
Anqi, who works on the Acute Rehab Unit, started lifting weights and going to the gym several years ago. He wanted to strengthen his upper body to help eliminate injuries when moving patients. “My upper body strength did help me with kayaking,” Anqi recalled. “But, I was surprised how sore I was from the repetitive motion of rowing.” Anqi did several practice runs on area rivers to help prepare for the big race.
Contrast that with Jason, who has only been in a kayak a few times. He also had just arrived back in the U.S. from military service in Bulgaria two days before the race began. “Unfortunately, my Army obligations prevented me from training. I did paddle around my pond twice,” Jason laughed. “Day 1 was the hardest because my muscles weren’t ready for the number of repetitive paddle strokes (approximately 180,000). It got easier.” Military training prepared Jason well for functioning with only a few hours of sleep under less than ideal conditions.
Persistence Pays Off
Anqi competed with a recreation-style kayak instead of a competition model and used $30 paddles. In fact, participants picked his kayak as the one that wouldn’t finish. “It was like driving a tank instead of a speed boat,” Anqi laughed.
Anqi remembers paddling 20 hours continuously on Day 1. His hands became clenched and numb from holding the paddles so long. Adds Jason, “I truly had no idea how hard this race is for endurance and mental toughness, but I am stubborn and determined.” By the end of Day 3, one-third or 150 of the competitors had quit.
While there is a physical and mental toll, there was also an element of danger for both men, especially at night. The darkness can hide trees that could easily capsize a kayak. Another obstacle are wing dikes (manmade dams) that jut into the water. Anqi recalled seeing an area with 20 crosses memorializing people who died in that section of the river.
Despite the dangers, lack of sleep and pain, Anqi and Jason beat the odds – and Mother Nature – to complete all three days.
Both men are proud of their accomplishment. “There were 20 or so times where I thought I wouldn’t make it, but I wanted to finish to show my kids I didn’t give up,” Anqi said. Jason and Anqi are looking forward to starting – and finishing – this year’s race.