Paddling Through Cancer

Courtesy of Paddle for Recovery

Casi Rynkowski is no stranger to the sport of standup paddling. Since 2007, she has been training athletes, fitness enthusiasts, and individuals focused on converting to a healthier lifestyle through her adventure fitness business. An AFAA certified personal trainer and ACA level 2 SUP instructor, Rynkowski has spent the past decade living the dream and sharing her passion of outdoor fitness with her clients.

Three years ago, Rynkowski’s world was turned upside down. Within a short window, five of her friends were diagnosed with cancer and she quickly learned how long and difficult both the treatment and recovery processes are. In an effort to help, Rynkowski took a few of her recovered friends standup paddling and watched them come alive while on the water.

Courtesy of Paddle for Recovery

Soon after, she founded Paddle for Recovery, a nonprofit geared toward getting cancer survivors out on the water and paddling. Here, Rynkowski shares what the program entails, who is eligible, and the benefits of standup paddling for cancer survivors.

What does the program entail?

Paddle for Recovery is free paddleboard lessons for cancer survivors. Survivors learn about gear, safety, proper paddling technique, and the different types of paddleboarding they can pursue like yoga, fitness, racing, fishing, and downwinding.

Who is eligible to participate?

Anyone that has been diagnosed with cancer can participate no matter how long they’ve been a survivor. People sign up by going to my main website and finding a class near them.

Josh Edenbaum Paddle for Recovery Narrow River Kayaks, Narragansett RI

What’s your mission?

Fitness outdoors is the foundation for my training business and my clients will be the first to tell you it’s changed their lives. Have you ever felt terrible then stepped outside to notice your spirits lift within the first few minutes? Well, Mother Nature truly heals.

Studies have shown that outdoor activity can aid in recovery from disease, reduce stress, increase concentration, and improve your overall health and well-being. Paddle for Recovery shows survivors how to take advantage of all this and possibly give them a new passion for pursuing on their road to recovery.

Where does the funding for the program come from?

Paddle for Recovery is possible thanks to the generosity of the paddling community and watersports businesses. Hosting businesses donate locations, gear, and instructors. The Paddle for Recovery team, Michelle Currier, Anne Biddle and myself, help connect survivor groups with classes, track enrollment, find new hosting locations, and help market the program. SIC Maui has kindly donated paddleboard accessories and a truck so we can provide classes in the New England area. MTI Life Jackets have given PFD’s for local instruction, as well.

Josh Edenbaum / Narrow River Kayaks Narragansett RI

Why is standup paddling, in particular, beneficial for cancer survivors?

Chronic fatigue plagues many survivors. It’s a vicious cycle where physical activity helps, but it’s so hard to motivate when you’re physically and mentally tired.

Mother Nature has a great way of disguising hard physical work by taking the focus off the task at hand and allowing you to become consumed with the beauty that surrounds you. Feeling the wind against your face, hearing the water slap against your board, and taking in the scenery makes paddling feel less like a fitness activity and more like an adventure. Paddleboarding is also low impact and can be done casually or at a high-intensity pace, so it’s perfect for the different phases of recovery.

The mental struggles with cancer are not always visible. Poor body image and the worry of disease coming back plagues many survivors. Lying on your board, floating peacefully with your hands dangling in the water can help bring peace to the stories and worries that play in a survivor’s mind.

Rich Young / Paddle for Recovery, The Waterfront Richmond VA

What have been some of the biggest challenges of running the program?

Spreading the word and getting survivors to understand that yes, they too can paddleboard is one of our biggest challenges. There is no age, fitness, or balance requirement. Paddleboarding can be relaxing or fitness related. It can be whatever you need it to be at that moment.

And the biggest rewards?

The biggest reward is at the end of the class when participants are smiling, exchanging phone numbers, talking about their achievement, and asking when they can go again.

Rich Young / Paddle for Recovery The Waterfront, Richmond VA

What has the reaction been like from participants?

I’ve had survivors cry at the end a Paddle for Recovery class and say they’ve finally found the sport or hobby that’s perfect for them – something with the health and wellness benefits they need but can pursue on their own or with family or friend.

A diagnosis of cancer is terrible but there is a perspective that seems to come along with the disease: the perspective of the importance of living. Something that many of us never really grasp because we are so caught up with other things that surround us or stories that fill our heads. Cancer makes you look around and appreciate things in ways you can’t imagine. Survivors often comment that because of their diagnosis, they’ve decided to give life their all.

Courtesy of Paddle for Recovery

How can people support the program?

Paddle for Recovery would like to reach as many survivors as possible! We are always looking for new hosting locations that are willing to donate their gear, hosting site, and instructors. We do the rest of the work and email you the class list. Currently, we have classes in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, Florida, North Carolina, California, Oregon, Washington, Virginia, with more coming online soon.

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The article was originally published on Standup Paddling

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