Florida Keys Weekly

Castaways Against Cancer fundraiser on Saturday, May 10 from 2 to 9 p.m. at Sunset Grille in Marathon. The Castaways depart Grassy Key on their seven-day journey from Miami to Key West to raise funds for the American Cancer Society.  

The Castaways Against Cancer is a group of kayakers who paddle from Miami to Key West each year, traveling more 160 miles in seven grueling days. Their mission is to help find a cure, and to honor those who have battled cancer.

“There’s actually two parts to this. Our mission is to help find a cure, that’s the fundraising part; and to honor those who fought the fight, that’s the paddling side,” said Patrick Linfors, captain of the excursion.

Although the trip does not begin until Saturday, June 7, there will be a fundraiser on Saturday, May 10 from 2 to 9 p.m. at Sunset Grille in Marathon. Since the first Miami to Key West kayak trip in 1999, the Castaways have raised more than $500,000 in the fight against cancer. The funds are handed over to the American Cancer Society.

In 1998, the founder of the group, Steven O’Brien, lost both his mother and his aunt to cancer. O’Brien is fond of saying that he decided to “light a candle, rather than curse the darkness,” and the idea of the Castaways Against Cancer was born. Each member of the 15-man group – comprised of teachers, oceanographers, lawyers and even Boy Scout executives – has a story to tell of their personal reasons for fighting back against cancer.

“When I started 15 years ago, I was just a young kid out of college looking for the next great adventure,” Linfors said. “Since then my wife, my brother and my sister-in-law have all battled cancer. My dad is fighting it now. Thankfully, they are all survivors but it has become so much more personal for me.”

In the last five years, Steve Anderson has lost his grandmother and father-in-law to cancer.

“My father-in-law was a 25-year Marine Corps veteran,” said Anderson. “He was a tough guy. It was something to see how cancer decimated his body. To watch that happen was very difficult. And over the last 15 years, we’ve met thousands of people that have a similar story.”

On their journey, the Castaways Against Cancer collect names of those who have fought, or are fighting, cancer.

“If they give us a dollar, we add the names to the list in perpetuity,” said Linfors. “If they gave us $1 five years ago, we still read the names at our closing ceremony.”

The Castaways only have wonderful things to say about their journey through the Keys every year. (Except the weather; Mother Nature was pretty brutal in 2013.)

“I think it was last year that we were stuck at Sombrero Beach by a big storm. We met this one guy and told him our story. He left and came back with a couple cases of beer and a few bags of chips,” said Linsford. “People are curious about what we are doing and when we tell them, they cheer us on.”

For the past seven years, the Castaways make an overnight stop at the Gulf View Waterfront Resort on Grassy Key. There they get a bed and a shower, part of the resort’s sponsorship of the event.

“It’s such a great bunch of guys and a great cause,” said Mike Horvat. “Members of our family have died of cancer and our housekeeper at the resort … we watched her go. When we met the Castaways, it really touched us, so we open our doors to them and support them in any way we can.”

Locals are invited to join the cause and the party.

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After bumping around the Western Hemisphere — Southern California, Central America, Northern Florida and now the Florida Keys — Weekly Newspapers Editor Sara Matthis is happy to have settled in the Florida Keys. Like many others, she came for the water but stayed because of the incredible island community. She's married and the mother of two girls. When her fingers aren't flying on the keyboard, she enjoys reading, bridge jumping, and beating her sister in sprint-distance triathlon races.

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