Belize Bound: Three-Man Canoe Team Raises Funds for Prince William Nonprofits

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By Marianne Weaver

Sponsored by Team Occoquan-Prince William

What started out as an item on Occoquan Mayor Earnie Porta’s bucket list—to compete in the four-day, 170-mile Belikin La Ruta Maya canoe race on the Belize River—has evolved into a community-building initiative to raise funds for two local nonprofits.

“This is all Earnie,” said team member and ACTS development director Aaron Tolson. “It started out as a fun thing, then as we were talking, we wanted it to be more than a just a fun trip. We want to inspire people to support us and support our community.”

Team Occoquan-Prince William’s third paddler is MP Copiers owner Mark Yingling. Patrick King, owner of Imagine, Inc. and a CASA board member, is the support and gear (SAG) vehicle operator.

Although each team member funded their own transportation and competition costs, they are challenging the community to pledge donations for each mile they complete.

“I thought it would be cool to make this a competition with a purpose, asking people to pledge a small amount, about 10 or 20 cents a mile,” said Porta. “That would only be $17 or $34, and all of that money would go to ACTS and CASA.’’

Action in Community Through Service (ACTS) is an independent, private, nonprofit organization serving the residents of the greater Prince William area, including the Cities of Manassas and Manassas Park. Its goal is to create communities where no one goes without or suffers alone. Court Appointed Special Advocates–Child Intervention Services (CASA-CIS) has worked with more than 4,000 abused, neglected and abandoned children.

Four businesses have stepped forward to offset the team’s expenses: Harbour View, Madigan’s Waterfront Restaurant, Patriot Scuba, and Compton & Duling. To date, the team has raised over $1,500. Porta said they hope to reach at least $2,000 before they leave Wednesday, March 6. Make a pledge at occoquantourism.com/pledge-page.

Up a Creek—or River—with Six Paddles

“The race started in 1998 as a way to promote health and raise awareness of the Belize River,” said Porta. “Now, it is a large event where both amateurs and pros compete.”

He said the three paddlers on his team are in good shape but are far from professionals.

“I have done a lot of kayaking, but it has been awhile since I’ve been in a canoe,” he said. “The canoes we’ll be using are longer and thinner than we use up here. And I’ve never done anything with three people paddling, so this will be interesting.”

The 2019 race begins Friday, March 8 in San Ignacio, Belize, and ends Monday, March 11 near Belize City. The river course winds through tropical rain forests, which are home to crocodiles, monkeys, iguanas, manatees, numerous bird species and jaguars. 

The race kicks off at Hawksworth Bridge in San Ignacio and the team will paddle 49 miles, past the Baking Pot Ferry, a hand-crank ferry that brings cars and pedestrians across the river. Later that day, they will pass the Iguana Creek Bridge, where crowds gather and watch the race teams pass by. The day will end at Banana Bank, a jungle and pasture-covered area near the capital city of Belmopan.

“The second day is 60 miles,” said  Porta. “The second day is tough.”

The team will paddle 36 miles the third day and finish the race logging the final 24 miles to Belize City.

“I am most looking forward to the first and last days of the race,” said Porta. “The first day will be exciting and fun. And the last day we will have convinced ourselves we can finish.”

For more information about the team and the race, visit the team blog at occoquantourism.com/blog/.

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