A few years ago, Shawna Thompson and Kathy Boyle were kayaking together when they had an idea to use their hobby to raise money.
The women both belong to the Alplaus Ladies Auxiliary of the Alplaus Volunteer Fire Co., which had been looking for community service projects. Out on the water, Thompson and Boyle had a brainstorm: How about an event where people paddled on the Mohawk River, pledging donations for the American Cancer Society?
We both had people important to us die of breast cancer, Thompson explained.
So, in 2006, the auxiliary hosted the first Paddling for a Cure, inviting kayakers, canoers and people with rowing shells to enjoy a scenic 5-mile trip down the Mohawk to Llenroc, the 30,000-square-foot mansion in Rexford, and back. This year’s event, the auxiliary’s third, is slated for Sunday, July 20, with paddlers leaving the Capital Region Maritime Center in Alplaus at 9 a.m.
That first year, Thompson and Boyle, the event coordinators, had hoped to raise about $5,000 for the Cancer Society, which would be earmarked for breast cancer research. Instead, the 63 paddlers who took part brought in $12,000. Last year, 85 paddlers combined to raise $14,500.
`The money just kept rolling in,` said Thompson, who hopes to draw 100 paddlers and raise $20,000 this year.
`They have done a phenomenal job,` said Anthony Marino, the regional vice president of the American Cancer Society. He noted that while his organization has a decent-sized staff, `There’s only so much that we can do day in and day out,` making events like the Paddling for a Cure invaluable.
For Thompson, it’s a great way to mesh a sport she loves with a worthy cause. Thompson used to be an avid canoer, taking frequent trips with her husband.
`I like being on the water,` she said.
Her husband, however, wasn’t as enthusiastic. Since it’s hard to maneuver a canoe with just one person inside, Thompson eventually decided to try taking her large dog out with her.
`He didn’t like that,` she said with a laugh.
So then she bought a kayak paddle and tried to steer the canoe with it, sitting in the middle. When that still proved a challenge, she decided to just invest in a kayak, and she’s spent hours on the water with it ever since.
`It’s just become my passion,` she said.
It’s a passion that is shared by many in the area. Thompson said most of the people who participate in Paddling for a Cure are from Schenectady County, but everyone is welcome.
`We had a whole family that came from Fultonville last year,` she said. `It’s really spreading by word of mouth.`
People who turn out this year can enjoy the baked goods the auxiliary sells, along with prizes in a variety of categories and raffles, including one for a new kayak.
Beyond that, they can enjoy a festive atmosphere while honoring people who have battled cancer. There will be a memory board where people can write the names of loved ones affected by the disease.
`The event turns out to be a really wonderful day of celebration,` Thompson said. `It’s not a gloomy day at all.`
She hopes the event can also provide some inspiration for people to hold their own fundraisers, noting that the auxiliary has only 25 members but has raised more than $25,000 through the event in the past two years.
`People might think, ‘Maybe I can do this, too,’` she said.
Pre-registration is suggested but not required. The cost is $10, $5 of which goes to the American Canoe Society for insurance. For information, call Thompson at 399-0490 or Boyle at 399-8048, or visit www.alplaus.org.“