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Anyone who has tried paddleboarding knows it’s not as lazy as it looks — especially if you’re traveling a substantial distance. It’s not just an arm workout, and this one in particular also tests paddlers’ stamina, mental endurance, and fundraising skills.

This September 11th, more than 200 stand-up paddlers will traverse 21 miles on the Colorado River to raise money and awareness for mental health services for cancer patients and their families. That includes cancer survivors like Jamie Brannagan, who know the mental toll the illness takes.

“I think the mental part of cancer is a huge deal,” says Brannagan. “That’s why this event is so important to me.”

The 14th annual Dam That Cancer event is hosted by Austin-based nonprofit Flatwater Foundation, which provides free psychotherapy for Central Texans impacted by cancer. This year’s paddle aims to raise $1.3 million to support Flatwater’s mission.

“For over a decade, Flatwater’s Dam That Cancer event has really helped increase public awareness and the importance of mental health services for both patients and their family members impacted by cancer,” said Senior VP of Impact and Events Chelsea Hardee in a release.

The paddle was created by Flatwater founder Mark Garza after he struggled to find affordable therapy when his father was diagnosed with stage IV cancer. Since its inception, the event has raised over $7 million to help cancer-affected families access counseling services. Last year’s event brought in over $1.2 million, breaking previous fundraising records.

Paddlers have pledged to raise at least $3,000 each. Past participants have included Olympians, business executives, and cancer survivors united by the goal of providing mental health support. At the time of this article’s publication, the 2023 paddle has raised $239,164.

For those participating, the actual paddling event is a unique shared experience. Paddlers don’t know what weather conditions they’ll face, and it can be a challenge covering the full 21 mile distance. But everyone helps each other along the way, from the safety boats dragging paddlers if needed, to fellow participants sharing snacks and stories out on the water.

“Nothing really compares to going the full 21 miles,” says Brannagan. “It’s an endurance event, but the camaraderie makes it special.”

“Everybody is really there to help each other,” she adds. “Knowing what everybody is doing this for and what ultimately the money goes to is the drive for everyone.”

After completing the 10-hour course from Mansfield Dam to Tom Miller Dam, paddlers and the community will celebrate at a free public after party at the LCRA Redbud Center. Guests who donate $200+ receive VIP tickets with complimentary food and drinks.

Volunteer opportunities for the event are open to the public. To get involved, visit flatwaterfoundation.org.

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