Kayakers begin 200-mile trek fundraising for Schneck cancer patients


COLUMBUS — “Bon voyage!” shouted Keli Foley, the support team operator for the paddlers.

The sun had just broken over the trees, and those Kayaking for Cancer, her husband, Greg Foley, B.J. Strong and organizer Toby Stigdon, dipped their paddles into the still waters of the East Fork White River in downtown Columbus.

Mostly, the city was just awakening for a day of school or work at 7 a.m., but these guys were embarking on a 200-mile adventure paddle to raise money for the Schneck Foundation in Seymour to benefit cancer patients.

Less than 12 hours after concluding a launch event at Harmony Park in Seymour, the men launched for real, shifting from party mode to sports mode, from mingling with 50 friends and family members to stretching their muscles.

“It’s going to be beautiful,” Stigdon said. “I feel good.”

How Stigdon feels is an issue. Following a terminal cancer diagnosis of partially differentiated thyroid, Stigdon organized Kayaking for Cancer, and he and some others paddled 73 miles from Columbus to Sparksville on this river, raising about $28,000.

None of that money or the approximately $20,000 more raised this year so far goes to Stigdon’s care, but to others in need through a special Schneck cancer fund.

Kayaking for Cancer II is a more ambitious paddle, scheduled to finish in Petersburg in Pike County. It is a little vague exactly when it will conclude, however. Perhaps Sept. 8 or Sept. 9, perhaps earlier, depending on the strength of the paddlers’ strokes, the water and weather conditions.

The trio will paddle only in daylight hours and camp along the river. Stigdon, 43, is a Seymour native who lives in Columbus. Foley, 53, who traveled with Stigdon last year, lives in Seymour and works in Columbus. Strong, 44, is Stigdon’s cousin and started the paddle last year but had to stop because his kayak, overloaded with supplies, was listing.

Packing appropriately was a serious discussion topic this year. Stigdon is double kayaking, pulling a second kayak behind him. So is Strong. Foley stuffed all of his gear into one kayak. It is a little bit of trial and error to determine what will be needed as they go and what might be discarded at stops.

Still, Foley’s single kayak was deceptively heavy.

“I can’t pick it up,” he said. “You can’t carry everything in a kayak, but I am well-supplied.”

Foley is very active kayaking and said last year’s paddle was “a great trip.” This one, though, will be “the biggest journey of mine.”

Friends, relatives, including Stigdon’s wife, Samantha, son, Chase, 14, who might paddle a leg later on, and daughter, Olivia, 9, cancer survivors, supporters and Schneck officials, gathered at Harmony Park. They were entertained by tunes produced by Seymour musician Steve Deweese, who has a different form of thyroid cancer.

The Brooklyn Pizza Co. operator Shawn Malone said he likes to lend out the grassy area for such good causes.

“It’s not just for music. It’s for the community,” Malone said.

The community — and communities in the area — have rallied to Stigdon’s idea. Stephanie Flinn, executive director of the Schneck Foundation, cites his unselfishness in the fundraising. The total for this year was $12,500 at the beginning of the party and $20,000 by the end.

Individuals from Centra Credit Union arrived, surprising everyone by bearing a check for $2,500. Teachers and children from Columbus Montessori Education Center, where Stigdon works, had their own little ceremony, presenting Stigdon with an envelope containing $3,500 raised by that group but also giving him gifts.

Among those presents were a T-shirt with the words “Mr. Toby” on the front and a drinking thermos with the words “Everything is better when you’re paddling” emblazoned on it.

Strong, from Georgetown, was itching to roll despite the daunting distance that lay ahead.

“I’m nervous,” he said, “and I’m excited.”

Strong reflected on the way Kayaking for Cancer has touched people.

“It keeps going helping people,” he said. “It’s a good cause.”

Keeping going. That will be the mantra for Strong, Foley and Stigdon for the next week, or however long it takes to paddle their way to Petersburg.

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