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Red Kayak Institute and Edward Cancer Center Retreat
The Challenge—and the Promise—offered to cancer survivors and caregivers was: ‘Reclaim Yourself’
The challenges outfitter Brian Lewis of TheKayakers.com faced are the kind he enjoys solving: training a diverse group of individuals, some novices, and properly fitting their equipment. During the training session, he also gave encouragement. As 26 people launched, his promise was to guide kayakers safely to the exit point.
Some of the patients have struggled with cancer for ten years or more, yet moments after the paddlers pushed away from shore transformation began. Most first time kayakers took to the water as if they had been paddling a long time. Others had some difficulty navigating shallow water and paddling around obstacles. But these were great life lessons to experience, helping them imagine the life they want to lead.
The challenge for Mary Anne Smrz and staff of Red Kayak Institute was to get participants to trust the support being offered—and then trust themselves. Physical limitations threatened to hold a couple individuals back. Novices worried about making the journey, but Mary Anne established a threshold of trust. She spoke about the kayak as a simple vessel, one without room for nonessential items. She gave paddlers a small bag of rocks and encouraged them to use the rocks as symbols and, once on the water, to toss overboard anything that no longer served them. The tone she set allowed paddlers to understand they could ‘reclaim’ themselves.
Edward Cancer Center’s social workers offer a number of other retreats and support groups, designed to help individuals deal with the burden of cancer. This is the second year Edward Cancer Center organized a kayak retreat. The success of these events showed the healing benefits of nature. A few hours on the water reopened a door to health. Social Worker, Sharon Kelleher indicated, “We were all there for a beautiful day on the river, but Mary Anne’s special touches challenged us to engage in contemplation and promised release and serenity.”
By the end of the kayak retreat, paddlers had tossed “problems”
Red Kayak Institute was established by Mary Anne Smrz in early 2013 and officially incorporated as a charity in the State of Illinois in September 2013. The Institute is in the process of formalizing its status as a 501(C)3 nonprofit. Contact them at PO Box 98, Westmont, IL 60559; firstname.lastname@example.org;