By Eva Ruth Moravec
Brad Ellis, 30, was pronounced dead around 2 p.m. at San Antonio Military Medical Center after he was flown there early Sunday, according to a hospital spokesman.
Ellis died of hyponatremia, or low sodium, said Allen Spelce, president of the Texas Water Safari.
“It goes against logic,” Spelce said. “You think, ‘Drink water, drink water,’ but you’re expelling all of that sodium, through sweat and using the bathroom, and not getting the replacements.”
Ellis, of Dripping Springs, worked in the Austin office of lobbying firm Ryan & Co. He was participating in his first water safari, Spelce said, paddling an aluminum boat with teammate Ian Rolls, 34.
Ellis reportedly began to feel ill around 4:30 a.m. Sunday and had been lying in the canoe, Boat No. 22, when he fell into the Guadalupe about 11 miles downriver from Gonzales, said Game Warden Dan Waddell of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
Rolls pulled Ellis to the riverbank, Spelce said. Paddlers in a passing boat saw the commotion and activated their emergency alert, summoning responders.
Ellis was conscious but “totally out of it,” Spelce said, when he was loaded on a helicopter and flown to San Antonio. Waddell stayed with Rolls, who rode with the team’s captain to San Antonio.
“He was visibly, emotionally upset,” Waddell said. “He was just lamenting, because this was his best friend, and he was very worried about his physical condition.”
Dubbed “the world’s toughest canoe race,” the Safari began Saturday at the headwaters of the San Marcos River. Ellis and Rolls had reached mile 98.19 of the 260-mile route to Seadrift.
Relatives and friends joined Rolls at Ellis’ bedside in the SAMMC intensive care unit, race officials said. A call for prayers was sent out to Ellis’ followers on TexasBowhunter.com, where he had chronicled his preparations for the race under the name “Concho Man.” Many of its readers changed their profile pictures in Ellis’ memory.
“He was a hell of a lot of fun,” said Terry Dunn of La Vernia, a member of the online forum.
Dunn said he met Ellis about a year-and-a-half ago and that there was “an instantaneous connection” between them.
“Brad never met a stranger” when he walked in a room, Dunn said, adding that “if I had a daughter that age, I’d want him to date her.”
He described Ellis as a detailed-oriented outdoorsman who loved to have a good time.
“He was just one of those guys … that infectious smile of his, that sheepish grin that said ‘I’m up to something,’” he said, describing Ellis as a prankster.
Michael Middleton, who operates the TexasBowhunter.com forum, said Ellis had formed strong friendships through the site. While Ellis was going through a divorce, he confided in another forum member, “Cajun Blake,” a counselor, for support.
“Brad was as genuine as they come, but he is a relationship guy — he valued the relationships more than the activities he was doing when he made those relationships.”
Ellis enjoyed African game hunting and hog hunting, among other things, Middleton said, and no one was surprised when he decided to join the water safari.
Some of those with Ellis during his last hours in the hospital were bowhunters.
Bob Spain, a board member for the water safari, said Ellis’ death dramatically changed the mood of the race, although not all participants were aware of it by late Monday.
“For his family, it’s just so tragic. The loss of such a young man. … We’re all just sick about it,” he said.
Hyponatremia, typically known to affect extreme runners, has become more common as endurance races of all types have grown more popular, Spelce said. Although athletes might think they’re getting all they need by simply drinking water, other nutrients including sodium must be replaced to maintain the body’s balance of water to salt, according to medical websites.
Spelce said Ellis had been taking electrolyte pills, but it was not immediately known if they had properly dissolved in his body. Ellis and Rolls had been training regularly, Spelce said, and had placed second in their division in the Texas River Marathon, a 40-mile race known as the precursor to the safari.
“He was pretty up to speed. He was training hard, they were doing runs — he was doing everything right,” Spelce said.
One of Ellis’ recent posts on his race preparations especially haunted commenters. Dated May 7, one of Concho Man’s more detailed entries reads:
“Only issue I’m having, and I’ve been this way my whole life, is the amount of water I consume … Everyone who sees the two 1 gallon jugs (for me) in our boat always say that’s way too much water. But to me, I need it.”
Staff Writer Nolan Hicks contributed to this report.
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