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Paddling for a cause, Kayak-a-thon raises funds for All Out Adventures

  • Kathy Lee of Montgomery, her service dog, Jesse, and scores of other participants in the All Out Adventures Kayak-a-thon on the Connecticut River head out from the Hatfield public boat ramp about 12:30 p.m. Sunday to start the second half of the 12-mile event, which started in Sunderland and concluded in Northampton. GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • All Out Adventures executive director Karen Foster addresses about 25 participants in the AOA Kayak-a-thon as they prepare to set out from the Sunderland boat launch on the Connecticut River around 10 a.m. on Sunday, September 24, 2017. After seven miles and about two hours on the river, the group pulled into the Hatfield boat launch for a break and to join another 30 or so kayakers for the final five miles to Northampton. GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • About 55 people taking part in the All Out Adventures Kayak-a-thon on the Connecticut River depart from the Hatfield public boat ramp about 12:30 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017, to start the second half of the 12-mile event which started in Sunderland and concluded in Northampton. GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • About 55 people taking part in the All Out Adventures Kayak-a-thon on the Connecticut River head toward Northampton from the Hatfield public boat ramp at about 12:30 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017, to start the second half of the 12-mile event which started in Sunderland. GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • All Out Adventures program director Sue Tracy sends off about 55 participants in the AOA Kayak-a-thon from the Hatfield boat launch on the Connecticut River on Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017, to begin the second half of the 12-mile event which started in Sunderland and concluded in Northampton. GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Stephanie Rose, right, Edward Anderson, center, and Morgan Ludwig, all of Northampton, head out onto the Connecticut River in Sunderland for the All Out Adventures Kayak-a-thon to Northampton on Sunday morning, Sept. 24, 2017. GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Karen Cartier, left, of Chicopee and her daughter, Kyla Fitzgibbons, launch from the Sunderland boat ramp on the Connecticut River, just below Mount Sugarloaf in Deerfield, for the All Out Adventures Kayak-a-thon on Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017. GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING



For the Gazette
Monday, September 25, 2017

NORTHAMPTON — Standing on a dock in the Connecticut River, flags and welcoming signs at the ready, friends and family members eagerly awaited a fleet of kayakers who had spent the last five and a half hours paddling downstream.

Finally, a rainbow-colored procession of boats rounded the nearest river bend and picked up speed. The kayakers, their destination in sight, paddled hard through waves and heat to reach the dock.

They were finishing the 11th annual Kayak-a-thon, a fundraising event organized and facilitated by All Out Adventures.

“We had 55 people this year,” Karen Foster, executive director of All Out Adventures, said. “Typically we have around 45 people participate, but this year I think word of mouth and Facebook helped get the word out.”

All Out Adventures is a nonprofit organization based in Northampton that provides outdoor experiences to veterans and people with disabilities for a low fee or even no fee. The Kayak-a-thon is one of its major fundraising events, and Sunday’s was the biggest yet, with launching points in Sunderland and Hatfield. At the start of the day, the organization was hoping to raise at least $20,000 by charging $150 for each boat and $500 for each four-person team participating.

“My guess is we raised somewhere around $15,000 already,” Foster said. “We won’t have a full number until next week, because money related to the event usually keeps coming in after.”

The money raised at the Kayak-a-thon is put directly into All Out Adventures’ programs and excursions, which include hiking, camping, skiing, ice skating, snowmobiling and a slew of other outdoor sports. The nonprofit also tries to plan two veterans’ trips a week. A veterans’ kayak ride is scheduled for Friday, Sept. 29 — again on the Connecticut River.

There were veterans among the kayakers on Sunday. At around 10 a.m., 25 kayakers left a boat ramp in Sunderland to begin their 12-mile journey. In the afternoon, the group met with the other 30 kayakers in Hatfield, for the last 5 miles of the trip.

“The extra launch in Hatfield makes the day accessible to all participants,” Foster said.

Throughout the trip, kayakers of all abilities battled temperatures of nearly 90 degrees, as well as waves from the wakes of larger, motorized boats. The group made sure that everyone participating was hydrated and able to finish.

“We brought everyone in, so it was a great day,” Foster said. “The conditions and the boats were definitely a unique challenge, but with this group I’ve really noticed that everyone looks out for each other.”

Tommy Hartmann, a U.S. Army veteran from Howes Cave, New York, participated in Kayak-a-thon with friends and fellow veterans. Sunday was his first time kayaking with the organization, but he says it will be his most memorable All Out Adventures excursion.

“It was so hot and I decided to get out of the sun for a little bit and kayak off to the side in the shade. Then, I thought I spooked a deer in the bushes but a huge, massive beaver came out and started swimming at us,” Hartmann said. “That was pretty neat.”

Hartmann says he appreciates the experiences that All Out Adventures provides for veterans.

According to Foster, each event brings disabled people with a variety of needs, requiring All Out Adventures to have a number of different types of adaptive equipment at the ready.

“Anyone who thinks that they can’t kayak, cycle or hike because of age problems or a disability should come to us because there’s never anyone I’ve met who we haven’t been able to help,” Sue Tracy, All Out Adventures program director, said.

All Out Adventures also has adaptive gear for skiing, biking and all of its other excursions. Claudia Moore O’Brien, of Northampton, has participated in All Out Adventures excursions for more than 20 years. She didn’t participate as a kayaker on Sunday, but she watched from the dock in Northampton as those who did finished their day on the water.

Moore O’Brien, who uses a wheelchair, says that proper adaptive gear allowed her to learn how to ski, a favorite sport of hers. She said her daughter wanted to learn to ski “the same way as mom,” and learned to ski sitting down before standing. Moore O’Brien said she would never have had those experiences without All Out Adventures and its volunteers.

“This is a great program,” Moore O’Brien said. “They provide gear for everyone. That’s important because adaptive gear is very expensive, but you don’t know if it will work for you, because everyone is different, and so you don’t want to just go and buy one. All Out Adventures gives you the opportunity to try out the adaptive gear and see what works.”

Foster and Tracy both say that the annual Kayak-a-thon is one of the organization’s most “powerful” events to witness. To them, seeing people of all abilities kayak and raise money in support of those in need sends a meaningful message about the organization.

The camaraderie didn’t end when the boats left the river. After finishing their ride, the kayakers helped each other out onto the dock and walked up to the top of a small hill, to share food and music.