Pictured from left are Chris Maher of Linwood, Frankie Walsh of Atlantic City, Mike May of San Marcos, California, Tom Forkin of Atlantic City, Todd DeSatnick of Cape May, Gavin O’Donnell of New York City and Mike Tkacz of Ventnor.
A decade ago, seven people paddled around Absecon Island to raise money and awareness for people with cancer. Since then, hundreds of people have paddled that same course to spread the message of the Dean Randazzo Cancer Foundation’s mission around the globe.
The original seven participants will be honored at the 10th annual Paddle For A Cause, Saturday, June 10 at the Frank S. Farley State Marina in Atlantic City. In addition to the 22.5-mile around the island race, the annual event now includes an 8-mile back bay race, 4- and 8-mile fun paddles, team events and a 4 p.m. after party at The Deck at Golden Nugget.
Mike May originally designed the 22.5-mile course so that participants would experience a taste of the intense physical toll that cancer patients feel while undergoing treatment. In 2007 Dean Randazzo was in the hospital battling Hodgkin's Lymphoma. May created the Paddle For A Cause course by completing the around-the-island paddle alone while thinking of his friend. But, a hurricane added another struggle for those who decided to show up at the Margate City beach for the first event.
May, who currently lives in San Marcos, California, will be among the originals coming back this year. He said as he’s been training and he has been thinking about the work he and his wife, Kate, began 10 years ago.
“We really believe that the growth is ultimately the work and efforts of the foundation. We knew it had potential and I always expected the cities along the route to somehow get involved, so maybe there is the potential for that in the future,” May said.
“That first year, thoughts of Dean and what he was going through was the thread of the paddle purpose. This year, though it is a celebration, it is bittersweet for me as I lost my brother to cancer last year and the economic effects were also devastating having to sell his home to get care in his final days. The whole purpose of the foundation is to help people like my brother who not only lose everything materially but in the end their life.”
May said that he is looking forward to the 10-year anniversary.
“I'm excited to see the original seven, they were amazing guys who threw caution to wind venturing into an unruly ocean and were the true catalyst to where the event finds itself today,” May said. “I have to thank my wife Kate who has put up with my adventures over the years and is always there to put me back together on those occasions when I push the limit. She truly was the one who pushed us the first year to do the paddle in our home community.”
After two years of directing the Paddle For A Cause, May passed the job to Paul Giunta of Somers Point, who has been involved with the foundation for the past 12 years including two years as vice president and three years as president.
“Some of my fondest memories revolve around the fundraising events we have hosted, the people I have met and the new friends I have made. I have worked with some awesome and dedicated people, many have been my lifelong friends,” said Giunta. “It is amazing to think that Dean's illness could have such an impact on so many people over the last 15 years. Thank you to all who have supported the DRCF and my paddle fundraising over the years. I am forever grateful.”
Todd DeSatnick of Cape May said after the first paddle, which was not a race, he never imagined the event would turn into an annual event for a great cause.
“The greenhead flies in the back bay were horrendous. It seemed like every stroke includes a swat at a fly. I was sunburned for a week after the event,” said DeSatnick. “I Never imagined the event would turn into such a great day annually for a great cause.”
Tom Forkin, 54, of Atlantic City has only missed one Paddle For A Cause since the first year to compete in U.S. Championship of Surfing. He said the race is easily one of the hardest paddleboard events in the world.
“None of us really trained for it the first year. I would train for five or ten miles but, you’re not dealing with the currents or the inlets,” Forkin said. “Every year it’s been honking winds, big swells and crazy currents. But, you embrace the challenge. There’s a brotherhood that flows from being a waterman with these guys that brings you all together. You get the tribe together to celebrate life and raise money for cancer.”
The 10th annual Paddle For A Cause is open to participants on stand-up-paddleboards, prone-paddleboards, kayaks, lifeguard boats, surf skis and outrigger canoes. All paddlers are required to fundraise $200 to participate with proceeds benefiting the foundation, a nonprofit organization that provides grants to financially assist people with cancer. The after party is included with registration and $25 to all others.