Cancer survivor hopes to raise $10,000 for St. Jude Children’s Hospital

Friendship man embarks on 300-mile kayak paddle to raise money for cancer research

Posted:  Wednesday, January 9, 2019 - 12:00pm
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FRIENDSHIP - On March 2, 2019, Dan Cahalane will slide his home-made kayak into the waters of St. Petersburg, Florida and begin a 300 mile odyssey that will hopefully end on the shores of Key Largo. Dan and around 100 other small boats will be racing down Florida’s west coast as part of the 2019 Everglades Challenge, billed as the toughest small boat endurance race in the world. Dan isn’t looking for well wishers though, quite the opposite: he’s actually hoping people will bet against him finishing the race. He entered the race as a means to raise money for St Jude Children’s Hospital. To keep people involved and following his exploits, he’s decided on a different twist to the usual pledge drive.  

Dan describes his method this way, “Most charity drives just ask people to pledge a certain amount per mile or hour completed.” He said. “To me, that just didn't seem sporting enough. I figure I should have some skin in the game too. That’s why I started www.betagainstcancer.org. People still pledge for every mile I complete, but I’m going to match their pledge for each mile I don’t complete.  I’m basically asking people to bet against me. I figure in the end we all win since the money all goes to the great work that St Jude’s does.”

Dan hopes to raise $10,000 for St. Jude.

Racing a kayak through the everglades may seem a strange way to fight cancer, but for Dan it was the perfect venue. A Registered Maine Sea Kayak Guide and a certified sea-kayak instructor, Dan has been paddling for over 20 years. He’ll tell you that the only time he hasn’t paddled is when he was battling Lymphoma himself several years ago. It was his own battle with cancer that made him want to help St Jude.

“Having cancer is scary and when your dealing with it you lose all control.” He said. “I think what it must be like for children with cancer and their parents. The strength it takes to endure that fight is amazing. I think one of the reasons I chose this race and decided on the boat I’ll be using is to remind me of the challenges these families go through. ”

While most of the competitors in the race will be using high-tech racing boats made of the latest composite materials like Kevlar or carbon fiber, Dan will be paddling a boat of his own design and construction which is decidedly non high-tech. 

Dan’s boat is a skin-on-frame kayak, similar to those used by Greenland’s Inuit community. (You can see an example at Bowdoin’s Peary museum hanging off the ceiling.) He’s updated the design to provide better handling and speed and has replaced the traditional seal skin covering with modern rip-stop nylon, but the construction method is still very much old-school.  The boat is tied together with artificial sinew and the skin covering is stitched on by hand.

“To me, modern skin-on-frame kayaks are a perfect blend of old and new.” He said. “There’s just something to paddling this type of boat that you can’t get with modern composites. The boat flexes slightly and there’s a give to the skin that makes it seem alive”, Dan said.

Dan will spend the next two months finishing his preparations for the race, which includes stitching on a stronger skin, acquiring and organizing gear and getting both his body and mind into shape. 

“The gear I’m all set with, its just fine tuning the packing.” Dan said. “I try to get out on the water whenever the weather lets me, and for those days I’m stuck on land I’ve got a home-made paddling machine.  I really think the biggest challenge will be getting my mind ready to paddle 75 or more miles each day.”

You can follow Dan’s progress during the race or help to support St Jude Children’s Hospital at his website, https://www.betagainstcancer.org.