Ocean of Hope Raises Funds for the Sarcoma Alliance

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Sarcoma survivors and families will gather Aug. 25 on Manhattan Beach in Los Angeles County to welcome the O2H team in the Catalina Classic Paddleboard Marathon.

John Kucera will compete in the Catalina Classic Paddleboard Marathon to help sarcoma patients.

John Kucera will compete in the Catalina Classic Paddleboard Marathon to help sarcoma patients.

Just as we have seen innovation and advancements in paddleboarding in the last 25 years ... so too have we witnessed innovation and advancements in the fight against sarcoma.

Seven years ago, John Kucera met the captain of a paddleboard team raising money for the Sarcoma Alliance. Last year, the word "sarcoma" took on much more significance -- when his fiancée was diagnosed with the rare cancer.

Early on Aug. 25, Kucera will slip into the dark Pacific off the shores of the Isthmus of Catalina with her name on his board. He will paddle 32 miles to Manhattan Beach in Los Angeles County as part of the Catalina Classic Paddleboard Marathon.

He said he entered this race once before -- 25 years ago. Now, he will compete as a member of Ocean of Hope (O2H), the Alliance’s largest fundraiser. It consists of paddleboard and outrigger-canoe races across the country.

The Alliance provides education, guidance and support to people affected by sarcoma. The cancer can arise anywhere in the body at any age, from newborn on up, Beckert said. It represents 15 percent of all childhood cancer cases and 1 percent of adult cases. It occurs in connective tissue, including bone, cartilage, muscle, nerve and fat tissue. There are more than 50 subtypes.

Kucera said his fiancée has a good prognosis after a hysterectomy for leiomyosarcoma, a sarcoma of smooth muscle. "It was a very, very difficult year ... We were planning to have kids."

The first paddler to compete for the Alliance started at the Catalina Classic in 1999, the year the nonprofit was founded in Mill Valley, said Executive Director Arthur Beckert. By 2012, O2H had raised $633,897. "We hope to surpass $650,000 this year."

"I do not know what the conditions will be for this year's crossing, nor do I know how I will place, but I do know it will be a big challenge no matter what conditions Mother Nature deals us," said Kucera, who lives in Dana Point. "My challenge, however, is in no way near the challenge of those diagnosed with sarcoma. Just as each race has its unique conditions, so too is each person's diagnosis and battle with this devastating form of cancer.

"That said, there is hope. Just as we have seen innovation and advancements in paddleboarding in the last 25 years through improved paddleboard design (mainly those by Joe Bark), better training techniques, and smarter sports nutrition so too have we witnessed innovation and advancements in the fight against sarcoma."

"For example, in my 1988 crossing, I placed 2nd in stock 12' class, and 10th overall with a time of 7 hours and 28 minutes. Today, the top 10 finishers will likely reach Manhattan Beach pier well under 6½ hours."

O2H is raffling off one of Bark's paddleboards, and tickets will be sold at its bright-yellow tent on the beach, along with food, drinks and O2H merchandise. Volunteers will gather at 9 a.m., Beckert said, and the crowd will arrive around 10:30. "Paddlers begin coming ashore around 11, if the winds and tides are good."

For more information, go to http://sarcomaalliance.org/ocean-of-hope/.

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Suzie Siegel

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