60 Mile Stand Up Paddle Cystic Fibrosis Fundraiser from Bimini to Florida
Submitted by Austin P. Grippo
It’s 3:00 am, standing on the shores of Bimini in the Bahamas, we gather for one last huddle before pushing off into the blackness of the sea. We are about to set off on a sixty mile stand up paddle endeavor across the Gulf Stream, to the East Coast of Florida. Six boats, 25 paddlers, hundreds of hours of preparation, countless safety meetings, all filtering into this moment. With the all clear from our safety and navigation captain, it was go time. We turn to our source of inspiration and reason for taking on this challenge, nine-year-old Piper, who has been diagnosed with cystic fibrosis. She stands tall in the center of our group and simply says, “Thank you.”
From there we were off, never to look back.
The day was slow and relentless, with unpredictable movements. Fatigue first struck the low back, shoulders and worst of all the mind. Focus was at a premium after ten hours, the monotony took its toll. With every fall into the water a deep breath was needed to regain balance and brought the attention back to purpose. It’s fascinating how wobbly legs and blistered hands can turn to tree trunks and vice grips when reminded, “why.” It all melts away when your mind is focused on a purpose that is indefinite and unwavering in your heart. For a few hours over the course of the 15, I was able to escape the blinders of life and tap into something greater. Get lost in the 360 blues. Look out to a wild place. Embrace the stories and jokes of four complete strangers while watching out for them like brothers – infused with the rhythm of something so much stronger then me- to work together as a team, until the end.
I think we all chase the mysterious “why” of life. People’s answers come from all different facets, but for me curiosity guides my ship. My process lives for finding mental and physical thresholds, not to accept them but set new ones. Long distance paddling has always been a vehicle to appreciate solitude and find those thresholds. This crossing was the battle of Ego vs Altruism, Stupidity vs Maverick, Time vs Purpose and so many more. In the middle of these micro battles were a group of men and women on a mission. The undertone of the whole race was doing something for someone else. It defines what human spirit is, to go out and tackle fear, or a challenge for something bigger and better then you. Doing this for something we can never truly know, while lifting the weight from someone we will know forever.
Twenty miles out the buildings begin to build a picture of hope. This false sense of security makes you feel like you are now going to make it. My fastest mile (Min/Mile) was Mile 49, and I remember it clearly. I pushed off from my group to set the course on my own. It was as if the buildings were magnetically pulling me closer and I was ready to see the sand. From that moment, minutes turned into hours and the buildings started to seem further and further away. The same security now felt like a mirage. Right as this struck me, my teammate Joseph pulled up at my side and said we were less than ten miles from shore. Second to the power of the mind, I learned is the power of teamwork. To know we were alone yet all in this together helped me finish those last 10 miles. As I approached shore, the taste of achievement was felt as I stepped off my board and embraced solid ground. The goal in hand, finally. Sand to sand. As I hugged Piper and remembered her words of fifteen hours ago on another shore, I said “Thank you.” Thank you for the privilege.
For everything I have done, the “why” is simple, perspective, personal growth and to see if I could. If there is one thing I am grateful for, it was the opportunity to give. The experience was personally fulfilling in a physical and mental capacity. I had a focus that day which I haven’t achieved in a long time. That visual is something I will hold onto for any challenge going forward.
A man of words creates echoes, while a man of action creates waves. I aspire from this point forward to live the latter.