Paddling for a Cause
“This is kind of a big deal,” I thought as I continued to drive east to Missouri.
Visions of Huck Finn floating lazily down a fat, swollen, Mississippi in the still air of the early summer stirred in my mind. This was a romantic image. The reality would be much harder.
Then a light turned on in my brain, “Why not use this as an opportunity to raise awareness for something important to me. What a great way to draw attention to a cause!”
The choice was clear. Autism affects several members of my family. The impact of Autism on both the person on the spectrum and the people caring for that person is immeasurable. Doctors are diagnosing massive numbers of children as autistic. It is an epidemic without a cure, and the cause is unknown. In this, I found a mission for my journey beyond merely going for a paddle on the river in the winter.
I like goals, especially quantifiable goals. Paddle 1,000 miles. Climb 33 peaks. Get a job. Learn a new skill. Goals keep me on track.
My trip now had two goals:
- Paddle from Omaha to Memphis.
- Raise awareness for autism.
The first goal was quantifiable. When I arrived in Memphis, mission accomplished.
The second goal, however, was abstract in its infant form. How could I quantify raising awareness of autism?
“By raising money for autism research,” I thought.
So, I partnered with Autism Speaks, the largest charity in the world dedicated to autism research and advocacy. As I paddled down the river and met people, I could both educate people about autism’s prevalence and raise money for the charity.
However, this association of charitable cause and adventure created two unique problems:
- I had to finish the journey no matter the conditions. With so many people following me and invested in my success, I felt that failure of the trip would be a failure for the cause. I could not wait until the summer, next year, or the year after. Once the journey started, I was committed to finishing it.
- What if something happened to me? How would that affect the message that I was carrying about the cause? I set out to paddle on two massive, commercial waterways in the dead of winter. Other paddlers do not go on the water at that time of the year for a reason—it’s dangerous. How would the cause appear if I was injured, the Coast Guard had to rescue me, or I died in the river? My base desire to move through the water from one corner of Missouri to the other could do more damage in an instant than any good that the entire trip would create. There is a fine line between having fun and being reckless.
“No big deal,” I said to myself. I could do this.
Admittedly, those romantic visions still swirled in my imagination.
And thus 1,000 Miles for Autism—as I called the journey—was born. All I had to do was find a canoe, get a ride to Omaha, and not die on the river.