Don Lowther understands all too well the devastating effect cancer can have.
The local kayaker lost his mother to lung cancer in 2005. It was then that he decided to combine his passion for the water with a good cause to found Paddle for Health.
A disease that will have an effect on most Canadians throughout their lifetime, directly or indirectly, cancer is the leading cause of death in the country, according to Statistics Canada: almost 30 per cent of all deaths attributed to some form of cancer.
For eight years, Lowther and his team of volunteers and fundraisers have put paddle to water to help.
“I thought of it while I was out paddling. I wanted to do something that would raise awareness, while also allowing me to give back doing something I love,” says Lowther, an avid paddler who has been regularly on the water since 1996.
Driven by a team of dedicated volunteers headed by Lowther, the annual Paddle for Health opened in 2008 in Brentwood Bay, but Lowther moved it to Oak Bay five years ago for a more central location.
Participants meet at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 10 at Willows Beach. Before heading out on the water, they’ll meet a parent of a childhood cancer patient – a lasting reminder of the event’s purpose.
“Usually we have the parent of a childhood cancer patient who does a little speech,” Lowther says.
At 9:30 a.m., paddlers will climb aboard their paddleboards, kayaks, canoes and outriggers to paddle from Willows Beach to Gyro Beach and back again. Upon their return, they’ll enjoy a barbecue lunch at Willows.
Although participation is by donation, Lowther asks participants to donate $50 per paddler. Families and big groups who wish to register together are asked to donate what they can. All proceeds go to raising awareness and enhancing the lives of children and their families experiencing childhood cancer.
Last year the event raised over $32,000, and Lowther aims to raise even more this year in support of Vancouver Island children and their families living with the challenges of childhood cancer.
“It’s all about families and friends getting together to paddle and enjoy a great, fun day on the water while contributing to a cause. It’s all about people helping people,” he says.
Last year, 90 people turned out to paddle in the event. Lowther is hoping to build on last year’s turnout, citing the century mark of 100 participants as one of the main goals of the event this year.
First-timers are more than welcome and watercrafts will be available for those who do not have their own.
Lowther also expresses his gratitude to the event’s sponsors. “It wouldn’t be what it is without them,” he says.
Since getting into paddling 20 years ago, Lowther has twice circumnavigated Vancouver Island. “I really like it because you get to go to other places you wouldn’t otherwise be able to reach. I also really enjoy the peace and quiet, the serenity of being out on the water,” he says.
Those looking to register or donate to Paddle for Health can visit paddleforhealth.ca.