Many years, she’s the only woman on this team of intrepid paddlers that tackle a 160-mile, 7-day adventure that spans the waters from Key Biscayne (near Miami) to Key West. On Saturday, June 12, Suzy Curry will set out again for the 22nd annual Castaways Against Cancer paddle. 

For the Marathon local, it will be her seventh year participating. She will be celebrating 10 years cancer free.

“This year in June, at the start of our trip, I will be a 10-year breast cancer survivor,” Curry said. “This mission has been so inspiring to me, kayaking with people who are so dedicated to ending cancer. It’s also a time of soul searching; I’ve spent many hours on the water contemplating things and praying for those fighting cancer and for those we have lost.” 

Curry said she’s dedicating this paddle to all cancer survivors and victims, but especially a dear childhood friend of her husband and Marathon’s Bonnie Cucci. 

“She is so strong, fighting so valiantly,” Curry said. 

In 2017, Curry did the whole 160-mile paddle. Now, she “just” does 110 miles — with the group for the ceremonial start, then peeling off and driving back to the Keys and joining the group when they reach Key Largo.

The paddlers travel up to 24 miles a day, stopping for breaks and sleep. They camp out the first night, but the rest of the time they stay in donated hotel rooms in the Florida Keys and are supported by a land crew that travels ahead to prepare for their arrival. They are due to arrive in Key West on Friday, June 18.

It’s a special adventure with a special mission: to fund cancer research. Since its inception 22 years ago, the group has raised $1.2 million dollars. Yes, million. 

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The group was founded by Steve O’Brien; Patrick Linfors and Greg Trainor have also been involved from the beginning. In 2021, there will be 14 paddlers, including Curry. Although the roster varies from year to year, they define themselves as a “rag-tag group of sea-hippie friends,” who come from all walks of life — teachers, firefighters, lawyers, bankers, scientists, former restaurant owners (that’s Curry), etc. 

They are bonded together by one core belief: “Light a candle instead of cursing the darkness,” a sentiment that originates with O’Brien, who lost his mother to cancer. 

Castaways supporters, whose numbers are legion, can elect to support an individual paddler (like Curry), or donate to the entire team. It’s all done digitally, via the group’s website castawaysagainstcancer.com.  

For many years, Castaways Against Cancer participated in the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life fundraiser. In 2021, the Castaways have partnered with the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center of the University of Miami. The cancer facility matches every dollar the Castaways donate, and the money is directed toward specific research projects that resonate with not only the paddlers, but the donors as well. 

“We kayak. You donate. It’s that simple,” said O’Brien. “And we all pray for a cure.” 

The kayakers will arrive on Smathers Beach in Key West on Friday, June 18 at 2 p.m. This year, some cyclists will also be making a trek of their own from the mainland. They will be arriving on the same day at Barbary Beach Hotel at about 5 p.m. At 7 p.m., both groups will converge at Smathers Beach for a final ceremony.   

Frequently Asked Questions

How far out to sea do you go?
Our route through the Keys takes us through back bays, channels, and out into the Atlantic. The furthest we ever get from land is only a couple of miles. However, on the first day of the journey, we are actually 5 to 10 miles from any help or civilization.

Why do we see the team salute with their left hand?
Your left hand is closest to your heart and your right hand should be holding a drink. At least, that’s what we learned from the Conch Republic Navy. In 2011, the CRN realized that the team of misfits that invaded their waters each summer for over 10 years was not giving up the fight and gave the Castaways the official designation of: Flotilla of the Northern Territories.

How do you go to the bathroom?
Some things will just have to remain a mystery. For now, we’ll say … very carefully.

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Sara Matthis thinks community journalism is important, but not serious; likes weird and wonderful children (she has two); and occasionally tortures herself with sprint-distance triathlons, but only if she has a good chance of beating her sister.