by Ronnie Ayres | July 22, 2016
7th Annual Tyler’s Dam That Cancer with Ronnie Ayres
As we gathered at the base of the Mansfield Dam, in the pink of the pre dawn moment, the names of those who are fighting or have lost the fight against cancer were yelled into the air by 155 paddlers, gathered to take up the fight.
Many themselves cancer survivors, their paddleboards were adorned with names and pictures of friends and family members, placed there as dedication and on this day, to draw inspiration to push through the 21 miles of Colorado River that lay ahead and the forecasted 20+ mph headwinds.
The 7th annual Tyler’s Dam That Cancer is the main fundraising event for the Austin Texas based, Flatwater Foundation , that is dedicated to providing those diagnosed with cancer, their families and loved ones access to mental health therapy and family support. The goal this year was $500,000 and the founder of the foundation, Mark Garza, shared the big news with the group just before setting off.
There were many familiar faces in the crowd and being able to return to Austin to participate in this event for the 4th time, representing event sponsor Tahoe SUP was nothing less of soul nurturing. The amazing services that the Flatwater Foundation provides to an overlooked issue in cancer treatment has touched many lives and the community, in turn responds with an outpouring of support.
The togetherness of the event in this group setting and the day long paddle, sparks many new friendships and strengthens existing ones. For me it never feels like I only see them just once a year. The connections are picked right back up and the effort is minimized by the strength of the numbers.
21 miles of anything is a huge undertaking and what really moves me is the commitment by so many, some who may rarely standup paddle or have done it a few times. And here they were. In it. 100 degrees of Texas heat and a seemingly even hotter, stiff blowdryer of wind to the face for most of the day. So many names and stories, but one of my new friends and first time participant, was 16 year old Hailee Swanson. Paddling in memory of her Grandfather “Papa”, she gets on a board maybe a dozen times a year but is one of the most driven and exceptional young people I have ever met. She shared with me how she wants to devote her life to helping others and couldn’t wait for this year’s Dam That Cancer. “Pickle” as her friends call her, became the youngest participant ever and her grit and determination that day left no doubt in my mind she will accomplish great things in her life.
- Hailee Swanson
The final 2 miles this year was really no joke. The strongest wind greeted us around the final bend and progress was slowing to a crawl. Conditions were brutal. But when I looked at the faces around me, there was not a frown to be found.
The final gathering spot is just a quarter mile across the river from the festivities and after party. Music and cheers from supporters can be heard, food smelled Its that final, tiny, easy segment, where Mark leads us all into the dock and the task is complete and elation palpable, that I can’t help but feel overwhelming emotions for what this group and what these individuals have accomplished. And the tears of joy flow. Every. Single. Time.