It’s been almost a year since I gave the greatest sales pitch of my life. The commission priceless. After convincing my otherwise logical husband that I could pull off the illogical, I needed to convince Cecil and John at Sea Eagle as well. That I could kayak from New Hampshire to Baltimore’s Inner Harbor for breast cancer with virtually no experience, out of shape, and 59-years old.
Thing is, my husband Gordon of 29 years is a very smart guy and he knows just how stupid I can be. Stubbornness, on the other hand, is an attribute we have come to recognize as one of my strong suits. A saving grace. Literally. We happen to think it was as useful as any drug to fight my advanced cancer back in 2003. With his anal-retentive planning skills in force and my stubbornness in mind, Gordon figured that if properly planned and using the best gear available, I could pull off the most amazingly incredible epic adventure of my life thus far.
The first necessity was a kayak partner, without which there would be no kayak trip. Period. It couldn’t be Gordon because he was going to trailer the new RV he suddenly figured out he’d have to acquire for eating/sleeping arrangements each evening along the 5-state route. Our older daughter, Sydney, 27, is an excellent kayaker as well she ought after considerable expense and two summers at the Marine Science Consortium at Wallops Island, Virginia, as a teenager in the ocean kayaking program.
Just one problem. She was living and working in event management for the university system of Saudi Arabia. In other words, we would have to convince her – possibly bribe her – to take a leave of absence for an important family enterprise.
Next, we needed a kayak. An inflatable kayak. Paddling the internet, Gordon spent considerable research looking for just the right combination of features. Sea Eagle owners already know: there are kayaks and then there are Sea Eagles. Sea Eagle kayaks are superior for a number of reasons in our estimation, including safety.
Why inflatable? Portability. Easy to deflate/inflate as needed for our summer-long adventure. One that not only included actual kayaking but photo-ops along the way for media, meet and greets, and visits with medical, educational, and cancer organizations all excited about the theme and fundraising aspect of River of Life and, hoping for a front row view of Nostos, the name I christened our Sea Eagle, meaning home-coming.
For those unfamiliar with Sea Eagle’s signature inflatable technology, this ain’t your little plastic toy boat with which to frolic in the pool or at the lake. Although you could. The 385ft, just one of Sea Eagle’s many kayak, boat, watercraft options, is expertly engineered with tough as nails, multiple layer, reinforced 1000 Denier PVC and is as resilient as it is maneuverable. Equally so in open water, flat river water, and white river water although different models are designed for specific conditions. I was especially enamored to learn that, having had no experience with white water, it would not capsize. And so very comfortable and roomy. (More on that later.)
Well, more ambitious folks would probably paddle the Merrimack River in Nashua about 50 miles east to the Atlantic by way of Newburyport, Massachusetts, then keep heading south close to the shore. It is the most direct, the only contiguous route. When I realized it would take me near the celluloid home of Jaws – and his relatives – I wanted nothing to do with it.
River of Life would definitely not be contiguous geographically but in my mind it all made sense and, would most certainly, evolve organically. ‘I hope Cecil and John will see it,’ I thought, as I explained the meaning behind my madness that blustery, sunny day last February in their Long Island headquarters; the River of Life kick-off just 2 ½ months away.
“First, I’m going to kayak the Nashua River in sections beginning May 13. It runs right through my town, after all. Where I’ve lived for 28 years. It’s just across the street from my house. It’s a slow, lazy river with a lot of history dating back to the mill days of the Industrial Revolution. The Nashua runs south to north 39 miles from Massachusetts into New Hampshire.
Then, I’m gonna kayak part of the Charles River in Cambridge, Massachusetts, arguably the medical capital of the world. Where beyond traditional medical institutions, the pharmacology industry, as well as bio-medical entrepreneurship are the life-blood of a new economy and the hope people with serious medical conditions depend.
While there, I’ll interview Johannes Fruehauf, founder and CEO of Lab Central, an amazing incubator for bio-medical entrepreneurs eager to solve the world’s most complicated diseases.
After which I’ll hopscotch over to Lake Quinsigamond in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts. Near Worcester. Dr. Angela Brodie first worked there in 1962 as a brilliant young research fellow on its shores from Manchester, England, on aromatase inhibitors for breast cancer at the famed Worcester Foundation. It will be a particularly sentimental pilgrimage, all considered. As will throwing the first pitch at the Worcester Bravehearts game in her honor that night.
I’ll brave the Big Apple next and kayak a section of the Hudson. Why not? And, while there, interview one of Dr. Brodie’s former students, now a highly regarded breast cancer oncologist in Manhattan. All the while doing press conferences and social media to promote the fundraising aspect of River of Life; money that will be used as an endowment to ensure that Dr. Brodie’s research facility can work on the next cancer breakthrough following her retirement December 2016 at the age of 82!
Then I’ll come home and wait. Wait for Sydney to get back from Saudi Arabia so she can join me on the most daring part of the course.
Meantime, thanks to an awesome team of support staff dedicated to River of Life from UMD School of Medicine, promotion, marketing, logistics, and general “hand holding,” this fundraising initiative will be one of the school’s largest cooperative partnerships.
On August 10, we’ve planned to start a multi-week, multi-state expedition down the Delaware River from Port Jervis, New York. Paddling 12 to 20 miles per day, stopping at cities and towns who will be told in advance of our arrival for additional media coverage in newspapers, TV, and radio as Americans, it turns out, are very interested in the only mother and daughter duo to kayak the Delaware.
The remote, natural beauty and perilous white water passages of the Delaware Gap will test our endurance but deepen our mother/daughter relationship and our resolve to complete one more mile, one more day, one more bend to the unknown treasures ahead: Eagles, new friends paddling the same stretch or, days without spying a human soul, the heady rush of rapids pushing us at exhilarating speeds one minute and the sudden slam of kayak on rock, carefully navigating a current so strong it would take your life in a moment, the unexpected phenomenon of quicksand, the welcoming crowds, the breast cancer survivors thankful one among them is sharing their story and rising above the pain and destruction of our disease to live in the fullness of life, a life cured from certain death.
The 385ft – FT for FastTrack™ – a stranger the first couple of days that we prayed would live up to the website hype in extreme conditions, became our faithful, trusted companion; a workhorse that took a beating day in and day out but never faltered. Not when we “flew” over a wing damn and dropped 4’ on gnarly boulders. Not when we scudded across 2 miles of shallows, grazed her belly, and imperiled her keel. Not when we were battered by high winds and 5’ swells in open water and fearing loss of maneuverability. Her wide berth and comfortable, water-shedding seats our outdoor living room from which to see the world.
And like clockwork, a sight for sore eyes at the end of each day, Gordon our chief engineer and care-giver, leg rubber, and confidence builder, standing at the appointed ramp to deliver us to a warm meal, warm bed, and brief conversation before we plunged into the dark eddies of a dreamless slumber.
When we reach the C & D Canal, having gone through the heart of Philadelphia – my God, what a scare! – we’ll deflate and head over to the Chesapeake Bay in my home state of Maryland. To my birthplace of Havre de Grace where the mayor will greet us along with throngs of family and friends and name me an honorary citizen.
And the next day? August 27, 2017 – if all goes well and we haven’t killed each other yet – Nostos escorted by loved ones and members of the Chesapeake Paddlers Association will paddle the last mile in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor where Mayor Pugh and Dean Reese of the UMD School of Medicine and legions of well-wishers will celebrate our 300-mile tribute to Dr. Angela Brodie. The real hero behind River of Life whose discovery of aromatase inhibitors has saved the lives of millions of women from estrogen positive breast cancer, including mine. Because of her life’s work, Nostos brought me back to my beloved homeland to celebrate the wonders of medical science and the human spirit to rise above adversity and reach the unreachable.
Our success is bittersweet as Dr. Brodie dies of complications of pancreatic cancer on June 7. Her husband, Harry, so proud of his wife’s accomplishments and now telling Sydney and I how proud he is of us.
But there’s more in store. On Monday, August 28 the Baltimore Orioles will name me and Dr. Brodie “Hometown Heroes.” And the entire crowd will give me, Sydney, and Harry Brodie a standing ovation. The front office will donate $5,000 to River of Life. Naturally, the O’s won and even if they hadn’t the night still would have felt like a homerun.
Needless to say, this was the plan Cecil and John at Sea Eagle bought when the crazy saleswoman from Nashua, New Hampshire asked if they’d be interested in helping a cancer survivor fulfill an amazingly incredible epic adventure. Sea Eagle, they said, would be honored to be part of such an historic venture for such a worthy cause. Their technical support and that of their employees was only matched by the emotional bond that will last a lifetime. I will sing their praises for the rest of my life. And I’m betting that Sea Eagle FastTrack 385ft will outlive us all.
River of Life Time Line:
Nashua, NH – Nashua River, May 13 – Aug. 1
Cambridge, MA – Charles River, Aug. 9
Shrewsbury, MA – Lake Quinsigamond, Aug. 5
New York City – Hudson River, July 21
Port Jervis, NY – Delaware River, Aug. 10
Dingman’s Ferry, PA – Delaware River, Aug. 11
Bushkill, PA – Delaware River, Aug. 12
Shawnee Inn, PA – Delaware River, Aug. 13
Martin’s Creek, PA – Delaware River
Easton, PA – Delaware River, Aug. 14
Upper Black Eddy, PA – Delaware River, Aug. 15
Lambertville, NJ – Delaware River, Aug. 17
Trenton, NJ – Delaware River, Aug. 18
Burlington, NJ – Delaware River, Aug. 19
Riverton, NJ – Delaware River, Aug. 20
Gloucester, NJ – Delaware River, Aug. 21
Elk Neck State Park, MD – Chesapeake Bay, Aug. 24
Havre de Grace, MD – Chesapeake Bay, Aug. 26
Baltimore – Baltimore Inner Harbor, Aug., 27
Those interested in contributing to the Angela Brodie Endowment for Hormone-Related Cancer Research at UMD School of Medicine can log-on to: www.medschool.umaryland.edu/RiverOfLife To date, River of Life has raised over $36,000 for the cause.