Team’s 16th annual team raises funds for cancer research
The number one Relay for Life team in the state of Florida will be paddling through the Keys next week. The Castaways Against Cancer team will depart from Miami on Friday, June 6. By the time the work week is underway, they will be joined by Marathon’s Suzy Curry — a guest paddler for the 16th annual, 150-mile paddling event. She went from dishing out her famous banana pudding for the weary kayakers every year to volunteering to join the dozen-man team for five days of kayak travel.
“I’m in awe of what these guys do. They are wonderful men,” said Curry, a breast cancer survivor. “Plus, this has been on my bucket list and my husband got me a new kayak for my 60th birthday.”
She has been training faithfully since September. Typical runs are from Coco Plum to Duck Key and back. Or Long Key to Islamorada.
“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.
Since the first Miami to Key West kayak trip in 2000, the Castaways have raised more than $610,000 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 12-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 16 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 six years, Scott 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 16 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.)
In 2014, the Castaways raised $135,000 for Relay for Life Team, earning the No. 1 rank in the state of Florida.