Some walk, run or bike to support the fight against cancer. These guys paddle, paddle and then paddle some more.
Think of it as Relay for Life, with kayaks. This month, two Eagle Scouts, each of whom turned his passion for Scouting into a career with the BSA, are part of a team kayaking from Miami to Key West in support of the American Cancer Society.
They call themselves Castaways Against Cancer. Eagle Scouts Patrick Linfors and Anthony Berger are two members of the group, which has raised more than $1 million for the American Cancer Society since the effort began in 2000.
This year’s trip launches June 9. That’s when 17 paddlers will begin the 160-mile journey, expected to take seven days.
Starting small, thinking big
The journey to raise $1 million for the American Cancer Society started in 1999 when Steve O’Brien, a Miami high school teacher, lost his mother and grandmother to the terrible disease.
At his mother’s wake, O’Brien decided it was better to “light a candle instead of curse the darkness.”
When O’Brien was looking for three paddlers to join his journey in 2000, he recruited two fellow schoolteachers. One of them was Linfors’ brother.
“They were looking for a fourth person, and my brother recommended me,” Linfors says. “They assumed that, as an Eagle Scout, I could handle it.”
And so that’s how four men in two tandem kayaks found themselves paddling from Miami to Key West. They raised $10,000, and the Castaways Against Cancer were born.
Linfors, who is director of field service for the North Florida Council, has been on all 19 Castaways Against Cancer trips, including this year’s paddle.
The Castaways Against Cancer team captain, Linfors earned Scouting’s highest honor in 1993 as a member of Troop 314 of Miami, part of the South Florida Council.
More than a million
From 2000 to 2017, the Castaways raised $933,061 for the American Cancer Society, making them one of the top Relay for Life teams in the nation. Add in the funds raised in advance of the 2018 trip, and the total has surpassed $1 million.
As the years have gone on, Linfors has been personally impacted by cancer. Both his brother and wife are cancer survivors.
“My commitment to the cause cemented over time,” Linfors says.
Berger earned Scouting’s highest honor in 1990 as a member of Troop 101 of Fort Myers, Fla., part of the Southwest Florida Council. He’s now the BSA’s director of Cub Scouting.
Berger joined the Castaways in 2006. After a few years away, he rejoined in 2010 and has been on every trip since.
Berger has turned to his vast network of Scouting friends to help him raise money for the cause.
Honoring the fighters
The Castaways really have two goals. The first is to help find a cure for cancer through their fundraising efforts. A million bucks goes a long way toward doing that.
The second is to honor those who have fought the fight against the disease.
With each donation, the Castaways ask the donor to provide the names of loved ones who have battled cancer.
These names are listed on the Castaways Against Cancer website. Upon arrival in Key West, the group holds a solemn closing ceremony in which they lay flowers in the ocean at sunset.
“All of the names from all of the donors from every year are with us on a special display board,” Linfors says. “Those loved ones are with us annually.”
Through his service to Scouting and to the American Cancer Society, Linfors is committed to helping others.
“I’m so honored to know that my life’s work in Scouting — and my labor of love with the Castaways — have such a positive impact on so many others,” he says. “It’s a great blessing to be a part of two amazing, life-changing, memory-making organizations and families.”