Paddlefest – Stand Up to Alzheimer’s July 2016

Bret Warner's Testimonial to his Dad

Not to be maudlin, but the one place, as a person devoid of any spiritual or religious feeling, I still feel a strong connection to my dad is where we first learned to kayak together.  My dad Chuck Warner passed away from various health issues while battling Alzheimer’s disease. Within a few months of his death, I was contacted by the publications manager for one of the biggest standup paddleboard companies in the world, Sandwich Island Composites (SIC), about putting on another paddleboard race to raise money for Alzheimer’s. I had put one on a few years before when I found out my father had been diagnosed with the disease. I had been toying with the idea already, but wanted to make changes to the way I ran the race the first time. One of these changes included donating to the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at Stanford, since that was my dad's alma mater.  After meeting with my contact at SIC, I was on the way, albeit far off timewise, from putting on another fundraiser.

In the interim, I dealt with the planning as best I could while trying to keep up with my teaching and my family. I wanted to run the race in Monterey, right by Monterey Bay Kayaks. That is where my father and I learned to sea kayak together and where he helped foster my love for the ocean.

Planning a race here caused extra challenges. Open water races have exorbitant insurance costs, and having a race in a Marine sanctuary requires far more paperwork and involves a more stringent set of rules than would otherwise be part of planning a race. I felt this was all worth the effort to have the race in such a sentimental spot.

Race day came, even though only two days before the race we were told our escort boat, a safety requirement in case anyone were to get injured while racing, was not allowed in the National Marine Sanctuary. Still, we had everything ready for a day of racing and raising money for Alzheimer’s research.  My volunteers, a group composed entirely of athletes I used to coach and whom I convinced to make the 6 hour drive to come help, all showed up on time and with plenty of energy to help out. We had everything set up before the first participant showed up, and then saw more than twice the number of people who had signed up early show up to race. Every other part of the morning went smoothly. The sun came out for the first time in weeks, our timing and registration equipment worked, the wind only picked up after most of the competitors rounded the buoy, so the wind was all at their backs for the second half of the race.  We even had one of our sponsors donate a set of two way radios to communicate with the escort boat, an arrangement that was finally ok with the sanctuary.

The best part of the morning, however, was seeing the racers both in the front of the lead pack and at the back come in with smiles on their faces. Some went even so far as to imply that I had something to do with the good weather.

After the six mile course was the short course, which is typically meant for beginners. The wind picked up a lot, and as we waited for the few stragglers in the long course to finish, I was worried about some of the beginner paddlers in the short course. We still held the race, but there were a handful who did not make it to the turnaround buoy. Fortunately, all were long-time friends, who participated only to support me and not out of a love of paddling.  In a way it was nice, because I got to paddle out and talk with them as we returned to the beach to “finish” the race. The best part about the short course, however, was seeing Bud Miller, who is the age my dad would be today, cross the finish line first ahead of all the other younger people racing.

We finished the afternoon with a raffle, and overall made our target fundraising goal. More importantly, we shared stories and information about dealing with Alzheimer’s and helping/living with family members who have Alzheimer’s. At this point we are not turning the race into an annual event, but it’s nice to think about all the people that helped me remember my dad in a way that he would have loved.