Fifteen other paddlers will join O’Brien for the 2013 journey, which kicks off Saturday. The group will leave Virginia Key around 7 a.m. and head for Elliott Key, where they will camp for the night before continuing their trip. On other nights, the group will stay in hotels. They will finish kayaking on June 15 as they paddle into Key West about 2 p.m.
O’Brien is no longer the captain of Castaways Against Cancer, but he continues to paddle with the group. Since the start of the event in 1999, he hasn’t missed a trip. He never thought “in his wildest dreams” that this journey would become so popular, but he wants it to continue for years to come.
“Someday, if and when I have to lay the paddles down, I’d like to see this thing go on beyond my years,” he said. “ I think it’s going to be a long haul. But I’m very optimistic we’re going to beat this terrible disease.”
Lung cancer has been the type of cancer that has affected O’Brien most, but he wants to eliminate cancer as a whole — not just one form of it. The ACS puts a lot of money into funding cutting-edge research that could eventually lead to a cure, which is why O’Brien decided to raise money for the organization.
Although cancer has impacted O’Brien and his family in many ways, he said he is fortunate that so many wonderful things have sprung from the fight against it.
“The friends I have made have made it well worthwhile,” he said. “In fact, it has been very fulfilling that so much good has come out of something that’s just so terrible. We’re going to paddle until they find a cure, God willing. [Cancer patients] are in it for the long haul, and these people, in my mind, are my heroes. They are warriors.”
To donate to Castaways Against Cancer, visit www.castawaysagainstcancer.com. All proceeds go directly to the American Cancer Society.