Get back to living

Good speaks to two avid supporters of stand up paddleboarding as a rehabilitation tool for those affected by cancer.

Interview Natalie Cyra. Photography Carmen Bird

Victoria Stuart and Karin Horen live every day with a sense of purpose. After meeting on the beach back in 2009, the friends went on to start the popular fundraising event Paddle for Hope, which raises money for the cancer rehabilitation programme PaddleOn – enabling people affected by cancer to exercise together with a physiotherapist, but not in a clinic – out on the water. Good’s Natalie Cyra asked the pair how their journey with paddleboards began, and why they are so passionate about the work they do.

How did the Starboard Paddle for Hope events begin?

Victoria: The Starboard Paddle for Hope event was started by Karin, myself and a team of amazing volunteers back in 2011, in Auckland’s viaduct in the middle of Rugby World Cup, as a way to fundraise, but also to promote the importance of exercise in being well. The feel-good factor of actively raising money together with your friends and family and participating in a fun fancy dress event on the water was a magic combination, and over the years we have raised more than $400,000 for cancer rehabilitation (with the NZBCF and Pinc and Steel Cancer Rehabilitation Trust.)

How have goals changed from back then, to where you are now with your rehabilitation programme PaddleOn?

Victoria: When we started, stand up paddling (SUP) was very new, and we were pretty excited just to be doing a fun, active “pink” fundraiser on the water. There was plenty of research on how exercise is medicine, and how your chances of cancer recurring are lower if you exercise regularly, and we could also see that SUP had potential as a great form of exercise for people affected by cancer. Karin and another Paddle For Hope founding committee member had both had breast cancer themselves, and they knew from their own experience just how great SUP is for your mental and physical wellbeing when you’re trying to get your life back after cancer. In 2013, The New Zealand Breast Cancer Foundation encouraged us to do a study on the benefits of SUP for cancer patients, so we went to Lou James from Pinc and Steel Cancer Rehabilitation Trust to ask her to help us create a programme to help people affected by cancer and do a pilot study. Together, we created PaddleOn, and there are now 10 physiotherapists around New Zealand delivering the programme in their communities.
Our goals for Paddle for Hope as a fundraiser are now very specific – we want to raise enough money to continue funding the PaddleOn programme around New Zealand and to allow even more men, women and young people affected by cancer to enjoy the positive benefits of PaddleOn.

Why paddleboarding?

Victoria: There’s a great book called Blue Mind by Wallace J. Nichols. He says that healthy wild waters are a vital part of our human nature, and that being in, on or near water can make you healthier, more connected and better at what you do. He calls it the “blue mind” state – where you can be more creative, your mind works better and you’re calmer. SUP allows you to tap into that state. It’s also quite meditative. And I think is a great antidote to stress (which we could all do with less of!).

Karin: SUP promotes core strength, mobility, stability, and it also helps you rehabilitate mentally. I was a fitness instructor and came from a sporty background but I think SUP was something totally different. It works every muscle in your body. It also gave me back the confidence I needed. And I became a part of a community, sharing stories on the water. You never see a paddleboarder not smiling. You’re happy, serene, content.

Victoria: PaddleOn is interesting too, because everyone you’re with out on the water has been on their own cancer journey, and there’s a sort of shared understanding and acceptance of that, without even saying anything. You don’t have to talk about it. It’s not what defines you. Paddle On really helps people move on from being a cancer patient, or a cancer survivor, to a paddleboarder.

What are the challenges you are facing with the PaddleOn model and the events that support it?

Victoria: Unfortunately the Trust currently does not have enough funds set aside and tagged for PaddleOn to go ahead in all regions this year. Pinc and Steel has had a 400 per cent increase in numbers in their programmes over the past three years and they don’t get any additional funding for PaddleOn from other charities like they do for Pinc, Steel and Next Steps programmes. So we are looking at how we are going to get a funding stream to support this programme so it can run in all regions. The Paddle For Hope events this summer will be a big part of that, but we’re also hoping to find a corporate sponsor for the programme.
Karin: There’s no government funding available. There’s no ACC, there’s no alternative to ACC. You can break your finger and see the physio for a year, but you get breast cancer, with three kids
in the house, you don’t get anything. We want to change the perception around cancer, so it becomes a discussion.

Victoria: PaddleOn and all the Pinc and Steel programmes help people get back to living. Lou puts it like this: Pinc and Steel is not trying to find a cure for cancer, or trying to treat cancer. It helps people affected by cancer get back to living. With more people living longer after a cancer diagnosis, we think that’s really important, so Paddle For Hope is 100 per cent behind Pinc and Steel helping people on their journey, and if we can introduce some of those people to a lifelong love of the ocean and paddleboarding at the same time, then we’re twice as happy.

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