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Mitchell duo finish 72-mile kayak race

Battling whitecaps and darkness, Mitchell residents Lisa Heckenlaible and Darci Winthers rode in a single kayak for nearly 18 hours Saturday. The duo rode the 72-mile race at the second-ever Kayak Challenge from Yankton to Sioux City, Iowa, on th...

Darci Winthers, Lisa Heckenlaible
(Submitted Photo) Darci Winthers, left, and Lisa Heckenlaible pose for a photo after completing the South Dakota Kayak Challenge over the weekend.

Battling whitecaps and darkness, Mitchell residents Lisa Heckenlaible and Darci Winthers rode in a single kayak for nearly 18 hours Saturday.

The duo rode the 72-mile race at the second-ever Kayak Challenge from Yankton to Sioux City, Iowa, on the Missouri River and took first place in the women's tandem division. It was their first time competing, and they were the only women's team to finish.

"It was probably one of the most physically and mentally challenging things that we've ever done," said Winthers, a Mitchell Middle School special education teacher. "But it was a lot of fun."

Heckenlaible said she took a three-day camping class about four years ago through South Dakota Discovery with Winthers, which helped spark interest in joining the race. Winthers also kayaked down the James River prior to the challenge.

About a week before the challenge, Winthers purchased a 16-foot, 8-inch tandem kayak in Minneapolis. Saturday's race was the first time Heckenlaible and Winthers rode the tandem kayak.

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"We were glad we did the tandem," said Heckenlaible, who's the assistant principal at Mitchell Middle School. "We enjoyed it."

The race started at 7 a.m. and there were four checkpoints along the way. Although some other teams dropped out, Heckenlaible said their main goal was to finish the entire journey. Nineteen tandem teams started the race and 13 finished.

"We were the first ladies tandem team to finish," Heckenlaible said.

Throughout the day, there were 20-25 mph winds that created whitecaps on the river. After they reached the fourth checkpoint at 9:02 p.m., they rode with headlamps to help guide them down the river when the sun went down.

"For that last stretch, it was pitch black besides the lamps on our head," Heckenlaible said. "A lot of people who saw us were cheering us on to finish."

Winthers said before the race, the team set a goal to finish in 16 to 18 hours. With a time of 17 hours, 53 minutes, Winthers and Heckenlaible did that. The top time was a mixed tandem team, consisting of a man and woman from Ames, Iowa, finishing in 9 hours, 31 minutes.

Winthers and Heckenlaible both said they would participate in the race again. Winthers said having gone through the course once will help the team drop its time. She added a less windy day would also be helpful.

"I think physically, I'd like to prepare more," Winthers said. "It definitely was a challenge."

Luke Hagen was promoted to editor of the Mitchell Republic in 2014. He has worked for the newspaper since 2008 and has covered sports, outdoors, education, features and breaking news. He can be reached at lhagen@mitchellrepublic.com.
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