Christina Kinsky · The Friendship Paddle 2009        

Doug McFadden

Quarter Mile Miracle

Dream paddles are rare these days. But you know them when you seen 'em. I've paddled under the full moon with dolphin, 25 knot downwinders with 5 foot runners and never experienced emotion like the other day. You should've been there for the most inspirational, emotional and jaw dropping quarter mile paddle ever.

Christina Kinsky is battling for her life. Marathon runner, soccer mom, forever smiling mother of three gets admitted and wakes up in recovery after hours of dissecting and tumor removal. What ensues is chemotherapy, crying, and friends and family supporting her with meals and childcare. A search for her cure has been a full time job but when the prize is life, what else can you do? A glimpse into her psyche, her motto became "Bring it On!"

Her world was upside down when we came into it. The Friendship Paddle has been around for 7 years. Starting with Doug McFadden, we have paddled for cancer victims to show support and love and raise money to help with anything and everything. Food, clothes, medical bills, time off work, the bills extrapolate out in a curve akin to the shuttle takeoff. Our dollars raised have contributed to trips to Hawaii, hospice care and a flamenco guitar concert. One husband simply didn't work, stayed home and took care of his ailing wife.

Simply, and more important than the money, we show them we care. We want them to know complete strangers in their community will paddle for hours to show them love and support. Some of their friends and family will join us in that quest. The 2009 beneficiary team was made up of commercial real estate brokers, an internet healthcare consultant, a few mothers and her husband, Terance. We were strangers to them as much as a paddle board was. "We're gonna what?", they asked. "You're gonna paddle with us from Santa Rosa Island to Santa Barbara Harbor" was the dubious answer. It would be like grabbing a total stranger and telling them they are going to go climb El Capitan in a month.

Our flotilla of boats bring everyone out to the islands on friday then relay paddle back the next day. Pretty simple concept that they should be able to wrap their heads around. I have never done the Molokai Race but I imagine our paddle is probably just as boring. Exciting at the start but decidedly tedious throughout. Hours of gut wrenching strokes, up and down swells and diesel fumes all day isn't exactly a bungee jump off a bridge. But, we don't take it all too serious and manage to get our fun in on friday. The keg on my boat makes sure that goal is achieved.

To a man, the beneficiary team paddlers will be crossing the channel for the first time. These people might as well be from Nebraska and I expect vomit to be the norm for the day. The NWS forecasted 15 to 25 knot winds, 3 to 5 foot wind waves, with occasional gusts to 30 friday afternoon. That made our boat captains worried and start talking of alternative plans. Maybe we should punt and paddle down coast from the Ranch? Guaranteed nice conditions but thoughts of Christina and her own battle tempered that thinking. We had to make the crossing, painful or not, to match her tenacity and struggles.

We have learned over the years that the Friendship Paddle tends to have it's own weather. We've heard that ominous forecast before and gotten glass in the morning. So after a rather smooth friday, it was no surprise to wake up to calm seas on saturday. The tequila created it's own pain and suffering but at least the beneficiary team wouldn't have to wretch the whole day. Our 8 hour crossing began with a sunrise over Santa Cruz Island like no other. Something special was brewing.

The paddle starts on the beach with words of inspiration about past beneficiaries, small remembrances of lives lost too early to cancer. Our 11 boats set course for the landing and we enjoyed the hours. The VHF radio crackled with tunes from one boats strange music, heckles about the night before ensue, then a blue shark showed itself. The day was hot enough to require random mid-channel swims to cool off. Our flotilla moved at a leisure 4 knots without the help of wind or swell. It didn't matter to me how fast we paddled as long as we made our scheduled beach landing we call the Celebration of Life.

Amongst the core group of paddlers, we have our own personal reasons for paddling every year. Some paddle for a loved one, an acquaintance, or a friend lost to cancer. Others for their own sense of being a part of something bigger than themselves. Tears of sadness and joy flow silently from strong men in the middle of the channel. I get overwhelmed by the enormity of the endeavor and knowing what is to come. The Landing effects me every time. Being a boat captain, I don't participate in it, but I feel it. I see the crowd receiving the paddlers and I know that they will be received with open arms from special people in their lives. That makes a life right there. A moment in time when everyone is showing they care about you and you care about them.

There is tremendous planning and work for the 36 hour journey but the Landing is what we focus on. That is the moment when all our efforts, all our sunburnt skin and muscle pain, means everything. This paddle community takes the message of love from the islands to the beach. We will land on the sand and shower Christina with love and she will feel that support and love because of what we accomplished that day. It is the Landing that delivers that message.

Christina is not your typical person. She is ever positive and her blog has motivated hundreds to live a better life and enjoy each day and each other. She even got on a paddle board to check it out during some of the beneficiary team "workouts". Picture her 90 pound frame, balding and paddling with the biggest smile. She could feel the effect of the paddle a month before it started. She laid prone on the board, kept her hands in the briny water, kept smiling and saying, "It feels so good". Her day was coming and she could feel it.

It was no shock to me but everyone else couldn't believe it when I got on the radio and told the flotilla Christina was on her way out on a separate boat to join us. She was deposited on the deck of the OCEAN PEARL and sat in a deck chair soaking all the energy in. Our boats surrounded her as if to shelter her from any threat but it was more of a symbolic show of caring. Horns blew, arms raised, men shouted and grew hoarse because of her presence. I striped off my shirt and abandoned my boat to swim over and hug her. The energy on the OCEAN PEARL was vibrating and too great for me to pass up.

7 hours after leaving the island we approached our destination. The flotilla slowed to a crawl with Christina's presence in the fleet, so the last hour took a lifetime. Every paddler was changed, tears flowed and newcomers understood why we do this every year. As we approached the beach by the wharf, we could hear the roar of the crowd waiting to receive Christina, her husband, and the team. The Friendship Paddle core paddlers, the guys that do this every year, were tertiary compared to them. We held back and let them make their way to the Landing. After Christina and her husband, the past beneficiary spouses land and we arrive on the beach later, spent physically and emotionally.

Christina, with her nausea and temperature sensitive extremities from chemotherapy, donned a full suit for her slight frame, straddled a board and made the last quarter mile. A miracle paddle to say the least. With Terance along side, Christina paddled to her Uncle from the Philippines, her parents, her three children, and her brother and sister waiting with childhood friends, running partners and sorority sisters on the beach. The cheers grew louder as she approached which gave her the energy to continue. We could only sit back and watch as her paddle ended with so much emotion and love. 400 people enveloped her while she yelled, "I did it!" Her miracle paddle changed many lives. Something so simple as a quarter mile paddle and hundreds were inspired to live a complete life, to hug each other more often, and "Bring it On!"
Sean Robertson




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