In a kayak called “Water Dancer,” Janae Whitehead took first-place in the lady solo division of the Neches River Wilderness Race.

It took Whitehead, 42, five hours to navigate the 22 miles of the Neches river.

“The most rewarding part of this race was seeing my husbands face when they announced that I received first-place in my division and he realized it,” said Whitehead. “Making him proud will always be my best accomplishment and my biggest goal. Of course, I also love making my parents proud.”

This was Whitehead's fifth race.

The last race she entered was in 2016, placing second.

While this was her best overall finish, her best time was made in 2014. “But I was five years younger then,” she noted.

This is not an easy race.

“The hardest part is navigating the downed trees, not knowing what to expect when you’re coming up on them,” Whitehead said. “One bad decision and you could sink your boat or hurt yourself. You have to be aggressive but smart about your next move.

“It’s brutal but getting to the finish line, no matter the results, is an accomplishment for anyone,” she said.

Whitehead hopes to get more women involved in next year’s competition.

There were over 100 racers involved in this year’s competition.

Steve Watson, of Jacksonville, was this year’s overall race winner.

The race stretches from the Lake Palestine Dam to the River Junction, between Palestine and Jacksonville. It raises money for the Neches River Runners Paddling Club, a nonprofit group dedicated to conservation, outdoor education, canoeing, and kayaking.

The group offers free canoe clinics each spring and undertakes several river clean-ups throughout the year.

Its main event, however, is the wilderness race to pay for a special needs scholarship at Trinity Valley Community College. Over the past 29 years, the race has raised more than $30,000 for college scholarships.

For more information: www.necheswildernessrace.com