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By Dale Wills
Paddle boarding from the Bahamas to Florida may sound like a crazy idea. Keep reading and you’ll understand why this trip made sense. A friend of mine asked if I could help co-captain his boat for the fundraiser, The Crossing for Cystic Fibrosis, as he and his family volunteered to be a support boat for 3 paddlers attempting to cross 80 miles of open ocean from Bimini, Bahamas to Lake Worth, Florida. What I witnessed as a result of taking part in the crossing was a heroic effort by everyone involved. The main goal was to increase awareness and money for the foundation and that they did. Over $600K was raised.
I also listened to the founder of the event Travis Suit, as he fired up all the participants with his motivational speeches and dedication to make a difference. It was also gut wrenching to listen and learn about CF from Travis while his beautiful young daughter Piper, who has a very aggressive form of CF, stood nearby. You can read more about their story here www.pipersangels.org The good news is newer drug technologies are being developed and all of us can pray that it kicks CF’s ass.
I’d like to thank my buddy Scott Ponder and his family for taking care of most of the details of the trip. Scott had our boat dialed in from transporting the paddle boards securely to enough safety gear for every emergency imaginable. Adding the InTheBite logo on the team shirts and koozies was a very generous surprise. You rock!
Thanks to your wife Kate for rallying the paddlers with words of encouragement and helping with food and drinks. Kudos to the Ponder children, Jack and Wyatt, who hung in there for the relentless voyage. I’d like to thank my beautiful wife Linda, who had no idea what she was in for as we departed Bimini, but stepped up in a big way, keeping watch through the dark hours of the night and digging into coolers and bags of food to keep our paddlers nourished.
Also, many thanks to my son and daughter who had no choice, but to endure the unfavorable sea conditions. Not once did they ask “when are we going to be there?” I’ll admit, at times during the crossing I felt terrible for bringing my family along. The three-knot voyage across was difficult, but I’m certain all of the kids onboard learned something positive from the experience. I’d also like to thank young Merrick Pranckun who watched as both his parents paddled across. Your parents will never forget hearing your words of encouragement.
My hats off to our other paddler Brittany Zajic, whose courage to begin the journey in the first place is a true testament to your character. I’m certain next year will be your year. Watching all three of you paddle tirelessly behind our boat and knowing the odds were stacked against you kept reminding me time and again of Teddy Roosevelt’s speech “The Man in the Arena.”
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
Watching the Pranckun husband and wife duo of Chris and Casey paddle for the entire journey was incredible. Chris, a true waterman, who surfs remote breaks in Indonesia for vacation, was positive during the entire journey. Congrats on your second crossing. Casey Pranckun, you are an inspiration. I had doubts. Watching you struggle and then persevere is something I’ll never forget. I’d have a hard time conveying a clearer story after reading your trip summary(read below). You did it girl! You did it for Piper, CF and the entire CF army. You carried the team and proved to yourself you can do most anything you set your mind to. Congrats to all, the paddlers, crew, staff and volunteers. The journey continues…
Blessings to all!
For more information on The Crossing For CF Click Here to learn more.
And so….the end of this epic tale—and I mean EPIC—is that we finished The Crossing For Cystic Fibrosis! All together, over $600,000 was raised for CF patients—86 miles on paddle boards starting in Bimini, Bahamas departing at midnight on Saturday night. Our Captain Scott Ponder and Crew, including the Wills family with professional Captain Dale Wills, kept us on course in the dark moonlight to hit every checkpoint through what we learned to be 6’-8’ seas. Kate Thall Ponder and Linda Werner Wills and Brittany Zajic were my rocks. Falling into the dark night water and loosing my paddle briefly was a moment I will not forget, the Captain always calling for our safety, checking for our glow sticks.
Many times the thought of giving up went through my mind. Dawn came and went – there were no real breaks as even refueling ourselves was a challenge due to the conditions. Then the crew would cheer me on. I would rally. Or I would think of one of you to focus on to get through the next mile.
I heard it’s not about the first five miles or the last five, but the 70 in between. My training buddy and partner in crime Brittany said it starts with one stroke. And at times, many times, all I could think about is just do one more stroke. The last five miles were brutal. Brutal. I knew Chris was going to finish no matter what. If it wasn’t for him coaching me telling me we were going to finish together I would have climbed back in the boat, even 20 miles from the finish.
This race literally brought me to my knees. Hearing Merrick cheer me on the back of the boat and my friends and family lined down the pier and on the beach when we came in 17 hours after the beach entry start in Bimini was incredible. Maven was waiting in the water with flowers from Sue Delp Aprea my ultimate cheerleader, who waited on the beach all day knowing we were coming in.
Thank you for being a part of this journey with us. It was incredible.
Much love, Casey