It worked so well the first time, Toby Stigdon thought he should do it all over again on Labor Day weekend.
If he is healthy and able.
Stigdon, 43, a Seymour native, is coping with a terminal cancer diagnosis, but he organized an event called Kayaking for Cancer last year to raise money to help pay medical expenses and other related costs for cancer patients.
Inspired by his passion for the outdoors, Stigdon invented a water trip to raise funds, not for himself but for others in need of financial assistance whose insurance coverage may have holes.
Partnering with the Schneck Foundation, an arm of Seymour’s Schneck Medical Center, Stigdon and some partners paddled 73 miles on the White River and gathered pledges for contributions over a few-day period last October.
The original plan called for going 66 miles, but the distance turned out to be slightly longer. The original plan also called for raising $6,600, but the goal was too modest. Touching more people than expected, they raised about $28,000.
Stigdon and some cousins and friends began their paddle in Columbus, where he lives. Once finished, stroked by a comment made at the breakup banquet, Stigdon began thinking of childhood favorite books: “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain.
“I loved the stories,” Stigdon said.
So why not take an even longer river trip this September, if not on the Mississippi River like Tom and Huck? This year’s fundraising plan calls for paddlers to stroke from Columbus to Petersburg, a distance of 162 miles.
Stephanie Flinn, executive director of the Schneck Foundation, praised Stigdon’s unselfishness and called him a hero for thinking of others
Stigdon, married with two children, is a part-time day care worker in Columbus. He has been diagnosed with poorly differentiated thyroid cancer and undergoes a variety of treatments.
“I’m doing all right,” Stigdon said of his health status, one which he hopes remains stable enough for him to paddle once again. “As long as I’m healthy.”
Long term, if Stigdon dares to think long term, he would like to be part of a third Kayaking for Cancer journey in 2024 that would pick up at a new spot in Indiana and paddle to the Ohio River.
Given the outpouring of generosity at a level that surprised Stigdon in 2022, this time while seeking pledges, he and other kayakers are thinking a little bit bigger as well as a little bit longer.
“We’re going to ask for $100 or whatever they can give,” Stigdon said. “A lot of them were giving that amount anyway.”
Stigdon said he was surprised by the public response from people he didn’t know.
“It did (surprise him),” he said. “It really did. It kind of warmed my heart.”
Stigdon did not really know how the kayaking idea would be received but feels good about not only the amount raised for the foundation but the spirit behind the donations. He has been told he is doing something special for the local community. But he has recognized a goodness in the people who contribute the money.
“This is to help other people, strangers we’ll never meet,” Stigdon said. “It made me realize how united we are. For me, it was just awe-inspiring. It’s not me. We’re all doing this together. You’re caring by carrying my message.”
It is neither all smooth sailing nor paddling for Stigdon, who is the front man for the event, but he still copes with debilitating illness. Sometimes, he feels drained.
“Some days, I barely have the energy to keep up with the kids,” he said of his job.
Last year, there was a pre-launch party for the kayakers in Columbus on the day the group put into the river. This time, Stigdon said there is a party planned Aug. 19 at Blue’s Canoe Livery in Edinburgh.
Two weeks later, starting Sept. 1 of the holiday weekend, Stigdon and others are scheduled to kayak.
“I’m blessed that I’m OK so far,” Stigdon said of his physical status. “I just want to go the whole way.”