LAKE WORTH BEACH, Fla. — One hundred and eighty paddle boarders will soon make a journey from Bimini, Bahamas to Lake Worth Beach next Sunday.
The Crossing for Cystic Fibrosis is a fundraiser that was started 10 years ago by Travis Suit for his daughter who has the disease. So far, Piper's Angels has raised about $2.75 million for cystic fibrosis families.
"Right after Piper's diagnosis when she was 4 years old, we learned about the connection and the benefits of the salt water as a therapy for people with cystic fibrosis to keep their lungs healthy, and to take them out in a positive environment where they can really enjoy the outdoors," said Suit.
So the annual crossing event got started and this year its namesake, Piper, is participating for the first time.
"Definitely a proud dad moment for sure. She's 15 years old and she's on a team of all ladies, the Tsunami Sisters and she's really excited," Suit said.
The journey is just over 80 miles from Bimini, Bahamas to Lake Worth Beach.
"We take a six-month process of really training off and on the water, getting our bodies physically ready, and it's definitely a mental aspect too," said Ryan Burgess, who helps train some of the participants.
The participants look forward to some help from Mother Nature.
"It's really awesome that we're able to utilize the Gulf Stream on the way back and it can go anywhere from three to six miles an hour giving us that extra assistance and some say it feels like the trip is more like 60 miles than 80," said paddler Casey McCullough.
Tyler Engle has cystic fibrosis and he is making his first trip with Piper's Angels and is glad he found a like-minded community.
"I was on the beach here last year I saw everyone come back [from the Bahamas] [to here in Lake Worth], the big finish line at the beach. And I decided that I want to do this so I got a board, train on it, and now we're 10 days out. Extremely a little nervous but I've been training for about 10 months so I'm pretty confident," said Engle.
Burgess said while it's a physical game there is a mental challenge as well.
"It is very lonely out in the middle of the Gulf Stream when you're all by yourself, especially in the middle of the night," Burgess said.
While it may feel lonely at times, each team is accompanied by a safety boat in which volunteers ensure that the paddlers have supplies and are kept safe during The Crossing.
The group said the challenge is worth it to keep their mission fueled.
"We are a foundation of cystic fibrosis families fighting for cystic fibrosis families, and we're trying to help the holistic person not just put band-aids on problems but actually figure out what's really going on this cystic fibrosis community and grow with them and try to evolve with them," said Tatiana Tims of Piper's Angels.
Participants in Crossing For Cystic Fibrosis depart for Bimini on June 21. At 12:01 a.m. on Sunday, June 25, they depart Bimini on Stand Up Paddle Boards, kayaks, and canoes, paddling all night in the dark, and arriving at Lake Worth Beach, Florida some 12 to 16 hours later.
The paddlers are greeted by friends and family members in a beachside celebration just south of Benny's on the Beach
"A team of safety personnel will accompany the boats and paddlers and the Coast Guard is notified of the float plan," a press release stated.