paddle for life crew_jpg_t285This past Sunday my regular canoemate, Andy Baxter, and I participated in the Paddle for Life — the art of paddling to celebrate cancer survivorship — at London, Ontario's Fanshawe Lake. And, shocking to all who attended, we won the most rotations of the lake. What does that mean? Well, we went around the course 36 times in twelve hours, from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. That works out to approximately 54 kilometers and 10,800 paddle strokes. Our team, titled "The Happy Campers," was made up of Paul Bisson, James from Handcraft Canoes and Mike MacHugh (who replaced Ashley McBride, aka Speedo Man, last minute). Everyone seemed thrilled by our accomplishments but Andy and I humbly stated that it was just a normal paddle day for us.

This was the first, but definitely not the last, of this grass-roots fund raising event to celebrate cancer survivorship. The concept, initiated by cancer survivors Steve Gedies and Philip J.A.F. Aziz, is that through the spirit of paddling (in a recognized non-motorized watercraft such as a canoe, kayak, or paddleboat) individuals and teams would be invited to don their lifejackets and stroke their way around Fanshawe Lake from sunrise to sunset on June 7th, 2009. Attendance was low, which is normal for the first round of such an event, but spirit and enthusiasm was not. Off the water, various bands played throughout the day to help cheer on the paddlers, internationally renowned artists donated pieces of work and Andy and I even had volunteer members bake a blueberry pie on a camp stove and then auctioned pieces to the audience — collecting a total of $75, with the highest bid going for $20. The overall money raised totaled just under $5,000. Main sponsors for the event were Nova Craft Canoe, Veo Natural Spring Water, JC Graphics and London's 103.9 FM.

The event was very uplifting for me. Not only was it great to see a bunch of like-minded paddlers get together for an incredible cause, it was also something that I could finally do to help cancer survivorship. My wife's friend, Tracy Groombridge, was diagnosed with breast cancer just under a year ago and Alana's friends partcpated in a Relay for Life event held locally (Peterborough) Their team, Bosom Buddies, raised over $12,000. Tracy is my friend as well but I personally felt somewhat out of the loop when Alana's friends gathered to raise money and such. Other husbands and colleagues at Sir Sandford Fleming College where Tracy works got involved by shaving their heads or purchasing bead bracelets made by a collective group who Alana runs with (my wife, Alana, is a marathon runner). But I wanted to do something that linked to my own character — Paddle for Life matched it perfectly. All 10,800 paddle strokes were for you Tracy.

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To end, here a quote from the host (and cancer survivor), Steve Gedies, on why he chose paddling as the symbol for the event.

"Kevin, I chose to paddle because of the spirit and wellness I feel for paddling, and that I've always felt for paddling. I've taken a number of students with me throughout the provincial parks and the wellness I feel during the paddling, after the paddling, before the paddling, setting up camp, creates a wellness I truly treasure; and as a cancer survivor, I've taken the wellness to a new level and I'm enjoying the spirit of the paddle in my hand, the spirit of the water, and the spirit of the fellowship — and that's the spirit I want to share with others throughout the Paddle for Life campaign."

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