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More Than Just a Race: JP Students Rise to La Ruta Maya River Challenge

Something Beautiful For God

When the sun is blinding and burning you, when the heat is drying you out, when monotony is draining what fortitude you thought you had, then my friend, you are only halfway through day one. This is La Ruta Maya: a four day canoe race along the Belize river from San Ignacio to Belize City, rowing for hours with hardly any breaks, facing rapids with dangers unknown, flipping a canoe on a river and battling to get back in. This was our journey.

boys carrying a canoe
Walking a canoe to the river to practice

St. John Paul the Great was an avid outdoorsman. He loved to be in nature canoeing, hiking, and even skiing while being Pope! In that same spirit of adventure, a group of students and teachers formed a school team determined to compete in and finish this nationally televised race for the good of the school, its hometown, Benque Viejo del Carmen, the country of Belize, and above all, the Glory of God.

How did it go?

We needed money. We got money. We needed tents. We got tents. We needed a canoe. Guess what, we got a canoe (actually, we secured that first to be honest). It was truly a school and community effort. Supplies, equipment, and support of every sort came in from many different places. Students lent tents, donors gave money, and in particular it is worth noting that Deacon Cal Cathers and his wife, known to Benqueños as “Mrs. Ginny” Cathers, lent us the vessel and oars that carried the team to the finish line day in and day out. Without the help and participation of so many people known and unknown, this could not have happened. We thank them greatly for what they have helped accomplish.

group of young people in front of a canoe
The team standing in front of Deacon Cal's "Bathtub"

The team was composed of 7 individuals, 2 of which were teachers and the rest of which were students. Three student rowers formed the rowing crew. The other two students and the two teachers formed the support crew. One cannot subsist without the other. The rowers bring the muscle and mental toughness to brave the untamed river. The support group brings the power of logistics, the patience to serve others, and the endurance to work with less than the bare minimum of sleep. The support came in the form of food, water, equipment management, and most importantly friendship.

Together, we accomplished a great achievement that could never have resulted from the efforts of one single individual. Our hope is that this race bears fruit for not only years, but generations to come. Next year I hope another team will take up the challenge and march fearlessly with one another to conquer the true dangers of this race: anger, frustration, pain, disunity, and self glory. One cannot grow without pain and pain well understood. One cannot love without sacrificing oneself. These things we learned, and these things we wish for others to learn as we share our story and the fruits of the race, and encourage other teams of John Paul the Great College to take up the standard. 

We leave you with this quote from our Lord and King, Jesus Christ of Nazareth, “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

Bobby, Ricardo, and Alexi with their 2nd place Intermural medals

Meet the Team

Alexi Solis

First-Year Student, Rower

“The Ruta Maya was a fun challenge. It challenged my mind and spirit in ways I never thought were possible. I felt like giving up, but I just kept focusing on rowing to the finish line.”

Christian “Bobby” Novelo

First-Year Student, Rower

"When I first heard of the Ruta, I saw it as a test of my skills and strength, an opportunity to push myself to new limits. However, as time went on, my perspective shifted. I began to see the Ruta not as a challenge for my own glory, but as a test of my faith and trust in God. So, I decided to take on the Ruta not for my own satisfaction, but for the glory of God. I embraced the challenge as an opportunity to strengthen my faith and trust in Him, knowing that with His help, I can achieve the impossible."

Ricardo Gonzalez

Second-Year Student, Rower

“Was worth it 1000%, no doubt about it.”

Nathan Cocom

First-Year Student, Support Crew

"Going into the Ruta Maya as a member of the Support Crew was a great experience for myself. We would need to make sure that our team of rowers made it safe at each destination for the four days of Ruta Maya. Along with this before they would head out to conquer the river we had to set up their canoe and make sure they had the resources they needed such as food, refreshments, and equipment. Overall as a support crew it was a great experience as you make sure your team's canoe gets in the river on time and out of the river when they arrive."

Christopher Iglesias

First-Year Student, Support Crew

“Being in support crew for my rowers in La Ruta Maya was a fun experience, it was tiring, tough and reckless but seeing the smiles of my peers made everything worth it. I’d for sure do it again and maybe row next time!”

Ms. Jessica LaFontaine

Teacher, Support Crew

"The Ruta Maya made me fall in love with this country even more! It was a beautiful witness of the heart of the SOLT people and the nation of Belize: they have the ability to do hard things and do it with joy!!"

Ms. Natalie McIntyre

Teacher, Support Crew

"I gave up my rowing dreams to serve these boys on their journey towards victory. I see now that I chose the better part. While other teams had fancy boats and matching shirts, these boys had grit and hearts for God. His love propelled them to the finish line, gave the support crew the motivation to wake up before the sun, and made us all just crazy enough to face the professionals in the race of a lifetime."


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