Round two kayaking against cancer set to launch Friday


The theme of Toby Stigdon’s second long-distance — and longer — Kayaking for Cancer paddle on the East Fork White River is literally and metaphorically announced on T-shirts that donors to the fundraising cause can receive.

“No one paddles alone” is the message emblazoned on the gray T-shirts as the symbol of the scheduled 200-mile paddle, which starts Friday and goes through Sept. 8.

Once again, Stigdon is partnering with the Schneck Foundation of Seymour’s Schneck Medical Center with all money raised going to help other cancer patients with financial needs not covered by insurance.

Although Stigdon, 43, a Seymour High School grad living in Columbus, has labored under a doctor’s terminal diagnosis from poorly differentiated thyroid cancer since 2021, none of the money raised by his kayaking paddles goes to his treatment.

A year ago, Stigdon and some supporters paddled 73 miles on the White River from Columbus to Sparksville, and the event raised just shy of $28,000.

Fundraising this time has gone a little bit slower, so Stigdon said he hopes a more modest goal of $10,000 can be reached. As of the beginning of last week, $7,500 had been pledged.

“Everybody thought I was going to die last year,” Stigdon said, applying gallows humor to why people gave money.

Stigdon, who has two children, son Chase, 14, and daughter Olivia, 9, with wife Samantha, said his health has been fairly good. He has had some infections this year and had difficulty breathing when the Canadian wildfire smoke invaded Indiana. But the tumors have not grown.

“They’ve stayed stable. The scans look good,” he said.

Stigdon did not know if he would have the strength to complete the initial paddle, and although he has maintained his 230-pound solid muscle weight this past year, he knows this paddle also will be a physical challenge.

Classifying the 2022 paddle as “a very huge success,” Stigdon said this year’s paddle will depart Columbus at 7 a.m. with a destination of Petersburg, covering the entirety of the East Fork. Greg Foley, who accompanied Stigdon last year, is again on the team, and so is Stigdon’s cousin, B.J. Strong, who had to abort early last time around.

Strong’s kayak was burdened with too much gear. This time, for a longer trip, it is planned other volunteer helpers will drop off equipment and food at designated campsites as the paddlers proceed at a pace of about 25 miles per day.

“I have been nervous packing,” Stigdon said in anticipation of the journey.

Kayaking for Cancer held a special party recently at Blues Canoes in Edinburgh and will benefit from a comedy appearance at The Story Inn in Nashville. On Thursday, the evening before the paddle begins, there will be a launch party from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. at The Brooklyn Pizza Co. in Seymour. Live entertainment is scheduled with Steve Deweese.

Schneck is pleased to be working with Stigdon again, said Stephanie Flinn, executive director of the Schneck Foundation. Flinn was immediately taken by Stigdon’s Kayaking for Cancer idea last year, thinking “how spectacular.”

Given his own cancer diagnosis, Stigdon can identify with cancer patients who need supplemental income even though he said he has good insurance and does not need the money donated.

“He is such an excellent example of generosity and selflessness,” Flinn said.

Flyers supporting Kayaking for Cancer proclaim “100% of your donation supports those in need who receive treatment at the Schneck cancer center through the cancer support fund established with Toby’s help in 2022.”

As Stigdon put it, “I don’t see any of the money we make.”

Stigdon received broad-based community support for the initial paddle, which he was not sure he could accomplish. He said people have told him they admire him for his efforts and are impressed with what he has done. He said he has met many extraordinary people through this endeavor.

Finishing that first paddle, with some guidance from two other guys with Columbus and Seymour connections, Foley and Rex Thompson, Stigdon said he learned much about river navigation. Thompson traveled the whole way last time but cannot join this year.

That has given him more confidence. Also, in Stigdon’s more optimistic moments, he allows himself to think about Kayaking for Cancer III next year, which would extend 250 miles from this year’s finish line to the Mississippi River.

“Next year, if God willing I am able, we would start in Petersburg,” Stigdon said.

And he won’t be paddling alone.

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