Paddlers, kayakers brave wind for fundraiser
With a stiff northern wind in otherwise perfect conditions, paddlers took to the urban waterways of downtown Tampa this morning, participating in the ever-growing, fifth annual Sweetwater Paddle for the Cure.
“Beating cancer with a paddle” was the catchy catch phrase of the event, said Arnie Goodman, a cancer survivor who organized the race five years ago and has presided over it ever since.
The paddling competition typically raises about $40,000 a year that is donated to the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation. This year, a recipient of the money included the Match National Bone Marrow Registry, Goodman said.
“We've grown every year,” he said in floppy-brimmed hat, standing on the dock of Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park on the west side of the Hillsborough River, just north of the Cass Street Bridge.
Himself a myeloma patient who has struggled for years against the disease, Goodman said he underwent a bone marrow transplant in August and things are looking up.
Five years ago, he wanted to raise money for the cause.
“There were tons of golf tournaments, foot races and walks,” he said. “I wanted to do something a little different.”
On Sunday, more than 200 paddlers in kayaks and on paddleboards showed up to race at the World Paddling Association-sanctioned event. Serious paddlers from all around the state huffed it five miles downriver to the convention center, then up and down a couple of canals and back, taking in the looming Tampa skyline and the sun just peeping over the buildings.
An unusual cold front settled over Tampa before the race, dropping temperatures into the mid-60s and scrubbing the humidity from the air. The only problem was the steady wind whistling down the Hillsborough River, smacking paddlers on the home stretch right in the chops.
“This is beautiful paddle weather,” said Goodman, 55.
A smattering of applause rose over the riverbank as the first kayakers in the five-mile race sliced past the docks.
Bob Waters of Lake Mary finished third.
Five miles is nothing, he said, compared to what really floats his kayak. He's into long-distance paddling and participates in an annual race that stretches from Tampa to Key Largo.
But just getting out on the water is what it's all about, he said.
“This is a wonderful event,” he said.
After the five-miler, a two-mile “fun run” was held for the less serious.
Wendy Porter is new to the sport, having taken up paddleboarding just a couple of months ago.
“My friends were doing it,” she said. “It's very relaxing. It's a great family sport. I'm all in now.” She said she and her daughter are entered in an upcoming Key West paddling event.
Courtney Gilner of Tampa chatted with Porter just before the two took to the water to participate in the two-miler. Gilner has been paddling an oversized surfboard for two years.
“It's easy,” she said. “You pay once and then it's free. And when you're out there, it feels like a vacation.”