By Corrie Seabrook
Arnie Goodman slides his legs until they touch the end of his shallow kayak. He grips the paddle and glides along the water flowing through Riverfront Park in Tampa. He’s paddling just as he has done on this day for the past five years. The myeloma cancer is working through his body, dangerously. But Goodman keeps paddling, for himself and for a cure.
Goodman, 54, grew up in the waters off Fort Lauderdale. There he boated and sailed through the east coast waves. When he moved to Tampa he was introduced to kayaking, where he fell in love with the sport.
“It became my love,” he says.
At 47, he was a practicing ear, throat and nose physician and continued to swim and kayak regularly. Then he was diagnosed with myeloma cancer. He, his wife and their two kids stared into what was left of the time that this cancer had cut short.
He has dealt with the disease for more than seven years. Since the treatment is so extensive and time consuming, Goodman stopped practicing medicine. A year after the diagnosis, he formed the non-profit organization, Beat Cancer with a Paddle. Though the organization, Goodman, Russell Farrow (owner of Sweetwater Kayaks) and other sponsors created the “Sweetwater Paddle for the Cure” race in 2009.
The race started with individuals and groups competing in kayaks. Then one year a man showed up with a stand-up paddleboard. “We thought, who’s this buff guy out there on a surfboard?” Goodman says. As the years have progressed, more and more paddle boarders have accompanied the kayakers.
The Sweetwater Paddle for the Cure doesn’t solely include endurance athletes. Parents bring their children to enjoy the day on the water in double kayaks. Beginners come to fall and try again on the kayak and paddleboard rentals.
“Paddleboard companies that work with us, Stand Up Paddle Life and Urban Kai, provide the boards and demo for those who want it,” Goodman says.
The participants set up in a staggered line. The gun blasts and the racers paddle off. The course takes the boarders down past the Tampa Convention Center and under the bridge. They swirl around three buoys up the channel and then hurry back to the finish.
The event’s target audiences are paddlers, newcomers to the sport, and those who come to support the cause. (All proceeds from the event benefit the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation and Be The Match National Bone Marrow Registry.) The event consists of a 5-mile race for time at 9 a.m. The second race is a 2-mile family fun paddle around the course. The event has raised more than $35,000 since 2009.
Goodman predicts that “the paddle boarders will probably outnumber the kayakers this year.”
This is the first year this race has become officially sanctioned by the World Paddle Association. It’s also the first time it will include a tie-in to firefighters.
Tampa’s fire department will be volunteering alongside high school students. A unique race called the Firemen’s Challenge Relay will be set up specifically for the different firehouses to put their training to the test. These firefighters will sprint against each other for trophies and the cause.
Last fall Goodman endured a bone marrow transplant. He’s also undergone two stem cell transplants. Multiple myeloma accounts for just 1 percent of cancer cases but has claimed the lives of a number of prominent Americans, including Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton, syndicated advice columnist Ann Landers, and former vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro.
After treatments, Goodman puts his energy into making this event a success despite how he feels. “It helps me to tolerate the side effects. You have to force yourself to do something even if you don’t feel good,” he says.
Recently Goodman received an email from a man suffering with myeloma. He expressed that he was coming from his home in New York to do the race. Goodman felt good from the impact he had made to someone in such a personal way.
Goodman continues to chug through his life kayaking with the cancer moving through his body like the river does beneath his vessel.
“I want people to remember this race and come back again. I’m going to keep going for as long as I can.”
Corrie Seabrook is an intern for EnduranceSportsFlorida.com and ObstacleFit.com.