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END-WET race sees participants from all over the country

Charles Brown, Bakersfield, California, cools down on the banks of the Red River in East Grand Forks after Friday morning's practice swim for this weekend's ND-WET race. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald1 / 2
Caleb Kobilansky leads a group of swimmers downstream from Lincoln Park to the downtown boat landing as they practice for this weekend's END-WET race event on the Red River. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald2 / 2

Growing up as a Grand Forks local, Jason Schaefer was strongly advised against swimming in the Red River of the North. The muddy waters, he was told by everyone, would inevitably lead to his death.

But he found out they were wrong.

"What they neglect to tell you is people only drown because they don't have the proper safety equipment, or they're not sober," Schaefer said. "That fear of the river is utterly overblown."

Schaefer now trusts in how harmless—and even exciting—the river can be. After all, that's why he's in his fourth year as a "support kayaker" in the Extreme North Dakota-Watersports Endurance Test Race, which takes place today.

Marathon swimmers from all over the country—from cities such as Seattle, San Francisco and Houston—come to race 36 miles in the sixth longest swim in the world.

Now in its fourth year, the race will see its highest participation of 39; most are solo swimmers, but some partner up with 2-4 other people to swim in relays with an accompanying boat.

Each swimmer needs to have a support kayaker to help them refuel every half hour to 45 minutes.

That's where Schaefer comes in. He won't be swimming himself, but his role is irreplaceable to his four-year partner, Dan Projansky.

Projansky is no stranger to intense races around the country. Originally from the Chicago area, he's completed 5½ Iron Mans, but otherwise he "can't count how many races he has done." He does know that the one in Grand Forks is one of his favorite.

As far as Projansky's aware, he is the only American over age 50 who regularly competes in swim marathons with the butterfly stroke. This year, he's the only person doing the butterfly in the END-WET race again, which usually puts him in last place.

"But it doesn't matter, because I win my division," Projansky said with a grin. "I'm always in last, but if you think about it, I'm also always in first."

The race is contingent on how strong the current is and can begin anywhere from 6-8 a.m. Projansky has to start an hour earlier to finish at a decent hour.

"I'm the only one they let swim after dark,", but everyone else can usually complete the race between 9 to 14 hours.

Awards from the race will be given out 10 a.m. Sunday, but there is only good sportsmanship.

"People from all of these different places come to race here, and some even know each other from other places," co-race director Joel Larson said. "It's a community of people that gets a lot out of racing each time."

"It makes no sense to people, why we compete," Projansky said. "Why submit to all those hours, why let yourself fry, and tire yourself out? It's for the adventure. And the scenery is just beautiful. It's like going back in time 200 years (in the wild). But yeah, we're pretty adventurous."