fighting back

Dam That Cancer combines fundraising and paddleboarding for a good cause

Dam That Cancer combines fundraising and paddleboarding for a good cause

Austin Photo Set: News_Mark_dam that cancer_may 2012_2
Dam that Cancer participants on route. Courtesy of Dam That Cancer
Austin Photo Set: News_Mark_dam that cancer_may 2012_1
Photo courtesy of Tyler's Dam That Cancer
Austin Photo Set: News_Mark_dam that cancer_may 2012_route
The Route
Austin Photo Set: News_Mark_dam that cancer_may 2012_2
Austin Photo Set: News_Mark_dam that cancer_may 2012_1
Austin Photo Set: News_Mark_dam that cancer_may 2012_route

“You have cancer.” Those are the three most demoralizing words in the English language. 

Whether the case is treatable or fatal, everything changes once the doctor delivers that devastating news. But it’s not just the patient who bears the burden. It’s an emotional toll on everyone from their immediate family to their most avid Facebook stalker. Fundraiser / fitness event  Dam That Cancer aims to damn the distress that accompanies a cancer diagnosis.

When founder, Mark Garza, discovered his father was diagnosed with stage-4 prostate cancer several years ago, it was like a dark malignant cloud had settled over his entire household. Despite being told their patriarch only had three and a half months to live, the Garza family and their closest friends did their best to remain optimistic throughout the tumultuous treatment process.

Fundraiser / fitness event  Dam That Cancer aims to damn the distress that accompanies a cancer diagnosis.

Whenever the mental and emotional stress became too much to handle, Mark would glide along Lake Austin on a stand-up paddleboard to put the struggle into perspective. The combined physical stimulation and placid scenery filled Mark with a serenity that made his problems, even those as insurmountable as cancer, seem manageable.

Determined to help others gain that same sense of clarity, Mark and his good friend Rob McKinnie, a cancer survivor himself, organized the inaugural Dam That Cancer fundraiser, a 21-mile paddle board excursion to help provide those affected by cancer with mental health services. That was 2010.

Today, Dam That Cancer is alive and well for its third consecutive year, just like Papa Garza. As a matter of fact, Mark and his resilient father parlayed the event’s success into The Flatwater Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing cancer patients and their loved ones with psychological counseling and wellness training, such as yoga, meditation, group exercise and personal training.

But Mark Garza and Rob Mckinnie aren’t alone on their dam-to-dam charity conquest. According to the Dam That Cancer website, 59 other philathropaddlers with equally touching stories have exceeded the initial fundraising goal of $1,500. One such Good Samaritan is Shiny Empire keytarist, Phil Davies.

Like most of the participants in this years charity paddle, Phil has firsthand experience with the psychological hurdles associated with cancer. Six years ago, his mother, Joan, died of pancreatic cancer. Even today, his family continues to feel the ripple effects from her untimely death.

“Holidays. Birthdays. Everyday. Cancer creates shockwaves for families. It turns our lives upside down. It robs us of happiness. Not forever, but for long enough,” says Davies.

In addition to helping The Flatwater Foundation provide mental health services for hundreds of people going through his previous experience, Phil is motivated by one central declaration:

 “There was a lot of splashing, a lot of flailing and a lot of laughs at my expense, but everything seems easier when you compare it to cancer.”

“Cancer, I want revenge.”

It’s this unwavering pursuit of vengeance that prompts Phil to tackle the 21 miles of water between Mansfield and Tom Miller Dam, in spite of the fact that until a couple of weeks ago, he had never even stepped foot on a stand-up paddleboard.

“It was... it was rough,” Davies confesses. “There was a lot of splashing, a lot of flailing and a lot of laughs at my expense, but everything seems easier when you compare it to cancer.”

Luckily for Davies, Dam That Cancer is not a race.

“Ya know, there’s really no individual winner,” Mark and Rob explain in a Dam That Cancer Q&A. “Nobody comes in first. We paddle this together. There’s no cash; no prize; no car; no sword; no trophies; no metals; nothin. The common goal for us is to make sure everyone stays together during the paddle and has a lot of fun, so we can all take a stand against cancer.”

This sense of camaraderie is incorporated in the Dam That Cancer logo, known within The Flatwater Foundation as a Hui (pronounced Hoo-ē), which is Māori for “A social gathering, meeting or conference.”

The minimalist logo, or Hui, depicts six paddleboards coming together to spell DTC. The Hui can be seen as far as the Marfa Chamber of Commerce thanks to the grassroots Slap-A-Hui movement. This guerrilla marketing effort encourages individuals to plaster Texas with Dam That Cancer stickers. You can pick up a stack for yourself at local Austin retailers like their marquee sponsor, Tyler’s.

  he Dam That Cancer Dam Party takes place at Hula Hut on June 4 from 5 to 8 p.m. and is open to the public.

But slapping logos on windows and paddling across Lake Austin aren’t the only ways to participate in the third annual Dam That Cancer fundraiser. You can also show your support by sipping a Hu La La at Hula Hut while cheering on the exhausted paddlers as they cross the finish line. The Dam That Cancer Dam Party takes place on June 4 from 5 to 8 p.m. and is open to the public.

A donation of $50 or more automatically makes you a DTC-VIP, which is good for free food, drink vouchers and valuable karma points.

General donations can be made through the Dam That Cancer homepage, or you can help a specific paddler reach his or her goal by contributing to their personal fundraising page. Whichever method you choose, it’s worth your while to read through the paddler profiles. The photos and inspirational stories of each participant makes it nearly impossible to keep your wallet in your back pocket.

With less than two weeks left to show your support, it’s time to open up your philanthropy floodgates and help The Flatwater Foundation Dam That Cancer. And don’t forget to damn your case of the Mondays with a big ‘ol margarita on June 4th at the Dam Party. It’s guaranteed to be a damn good time for a damn good cause.