As Troy Nebeker’s wife, Angie, battled cancer in 2013, he pondered a question.
“One of three people are affected by cancer,” said the 47-year-old graphic designer from Redmond. “What do the other two do?”
As Angie set about beating breast cancer and then lymphoma, Nebeker launched Monster and Sea, a company dedicated to helping families battling cancer. At first the company sold hats, shirts and other gear, but quickly Nebeker realized it could do more. “We wanted to rally the community around an idea,” he said.
So, in 2015 it launched a 24-hour standup paddleboard event that raised money that would could go directly to families dealing with cancer. They raised $7,000 and seven families received a $1,000 check.
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“It’s not much,” Nebeker said. “But when you are neck deep in the fray of cancer even a little bit of love from a complete stranger can be uplifting.”
He decided to expand the event this year, and on March 26-27 teams from seven North American cities took on the 24-hour paddle challenge. Nebeker’s team included Tacoma’s Dean Burke.
The teams of six took turns paddling in pairs for one-hour shifts. This time, they raised $45,000 with each team distributing the money it raised to families in their communities. Nebeker’s team logged more than 100 miles on Lake Union and raised $12,000.
At midnight, more than 25 paddlers from the community joined them on the water.
Nebeker had caught up on sleep and was doing yard work on a pleasant weekend when we caught up with him.
Q: Why standup?
A: Your wife is dealing with cancer, and as husband, you’re suppose to be the one who takes the punch for your family, for your wife. And there is nothing I can do except be a good husband. Even at that, you need an outlet. You need a place to think. For me the water and being able to paddle and being surrounded by a really amazing community was an opportunity to keep my head straight and keep focused on what I needed to do as a husband and what we needed to do as a family.
Q: How challenging is this 24-hour event?
A: I chose 24 hours because it is not easy. There is some discomfort that goes with that. For those of us who are healthy and able-bodied, I wanted to create a little challenge.
We paddle all together at the start, all together at midnight and all together at the finish. In between, we are broken down to pairs for safety and conversation so we don’t get all loopy in the middle of the night. ... At the end of the day, you paddle about 10-11 hours, and our fastest pair went about 50 miles. It’s a long effort for sure.
Q: Is there a competitive element to this?
A: No. If you are competitive and want to go out and see how many miles you can do, people naturally do that anyway. That’s great. But it’s a community event.
Q: How tough is it being out there in those early morning hours?
A: Your body is saying, “It’s time to sleep” and you are paddling. You can draw comparisons to a minute piece of what somebody dealing with sickness is going through. It’s is uncomfortable, but it’s worth it. For Monster and Sea, the tagline is “Go because you can.”
The idea behind that is simple. When you are healthy you don’t really think about it. You just do these things that you love. But when something catastrophic enters in, all of a sudden you don’t care about podiums or distances or times. What you care about is being able to lace up your running shoes and going to be with your friends. Or it would be awesome to get on my bike and spin around the block. Or get on my board and go for a paddle. You just want to do the things you love to do.
Q: Did you partner with a foundation like other relay events of this nature?
A: No. The idea with this is that when people hear the word cancer they are not thinking about those great foundations out there that are dedicated to finding a cure, they are thinking, “I’ve got issues. I’ve got stuff I have to deal with.” And the hope is this $1,000 is a pause, a bit of fresh air, a bit of normalcy for these families to take care of things like groceries, baby sitting, gas. Basic life needs we all have.
Q: How’s your wife doing now?
A: She is great. She is a survivor.
The crazy thing is, now, there is a silver lining in all of it. The people I’ve met. The people who are still fighting. The caregivers. It really gives you confidence and hope in people. The compassion, the people coming out of the woodwork to help. It was and is amazing.
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