PHOTO GALLERY: Rookie racer leading her division of Missouri River 340

Thursday, August 6, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 7:17 p.m. CDT, Thursday, August 12, 2010
St. Louis resident Melanie Hof pushes off from the Cooper's Landing on Wednesday as the leader in the MR340 women's division. Hof has only been paddling since June.

COLUMBIA — Women's racer Melanie Hof of St. Louis came drifting around the long stone wing dike into the Cooper’s Landing check point at about 3:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Her eyes were red and she complained that she couldn’t see when she got out of her kayak at the check point about 10 miles south of Columbia. Her weariness made her think it was 6:30 p.m., and she was shocked when she found out she was off by three hours. She said the river had started to feel like a lake to her because she doesn’t feel like she’s moving, even though her sister Jennifer Wright, who is on her ground crew, said she is on a 7.5 mph pace.

After a short break, a turkey sandwich from Panera and some eye drops, Hof was back on the river.

Hof left the check point leading the women's solo division of the Missouri River 340, a trek for canoeists and kayakers that takes paddlers 340 miles down the Missouri River. It is a remarkable accomplishment for someone who only began paddling in June.

Wright said she had decided to buy a kayak to race in the MR340 next year. The goal was to raise money for cancer research, a disease that had taken their mother. Hof planned to practice for a year and then become competitive next year.  However, a call about an open spot for the race changed everything.

Hof spent the next six weeks paddling on rivers in Missouri and Illinois to prepare for the race. Her job as an athletic trainer has kept her in shape, but she said nothing has really prepared her for this race. Wright said her sister hates running and hates swimming but wanted to compete in a solo event and found river racing.

“I’ve never done anything like this,” Hof said.

Even though Hof is leading her division, the sisters said they are looking at this race as a learning experience for next year when they will be better prepared. Wright said she’s watched how teams bring food down to the racer, what they eat and how they send them back in the race. She said she had no idea what she was doing at the beginning and has been getting lost on the roads, but overall they haven’t had any problems. Hof has also been getting advice from other teams and has even received a foam pad to ease the pain from sitting for so long.

Hof said she hoped to hit the Jefferson City check point by 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and take a break a few miles past Jefferson City. Wright, who has been providing updates on her sister through facebook, said she has been encouraging her sister to keep her moving. However, Hof's competitive nature seems to be enough. Even her reaction when she found out she was leading seemed to indicate her determination.

“Heck yea, I am,” Hof said.

Grumpy Old Men team members Charlie Stewart, left. and Richard Miller, both of Spring, Texas, attract attention from the media as they stop at the Cooper's Landing check point Wednesday during the MR340 paddling race. Veterans of this race, the team has continued to compete despite Miller's severe loss of vision.
Guy Roman, left, and Joshua Schloesser wait as Phil Bowden, from San Marcos, Texas, pulls into Cooper's Landing on Wednesday.
The Aquaholics kayak team from Jefferson City gets encouragement from their supporters Wednesday as they leave the Cooper's Landing check point of the Missouri River 340 race.
Nancy Day sprays sunscreen on Team Inertia racer James Kaufamn as he and his tandem kayak partner Ryan Slebos make a quick rest stop Wednesday at Cooper's Landing.
Team Inertia members Ryan Slebos, left, and James Kaufman, quickly stock up on calories Wednesday during their Missouri River 340 race rest stop at the Cooper's Landing check point south of Columbia.

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