Kayakers Champion Cause of Alzheimers with Memory Paddle Challenge Event

Kayaking champions Timothy Dwyer and Maury Eldridge
Timothy Dwyer, the national men's marathon open kayak champion and Maury Eldridge, a sea kayak record-holder and fixture in the winner's circle at major competitions in New England, have raced head to head several times. But come July, they will be in the same boat, sharing the most daunting and the most personal paddle of their careers, a charitable event called the " Memory Paddle Challenge." Dwyer, of Jamestown, RI, and Eldridge, of Needham, MA, will circumnavigate the nearly 300 miles of Long Island, NY, in a double sea kayak, in order to heighten awareness of Alzheimer's disease and to raise funds for the Long Island Alzheimer's Foundation (LIAF). For both A-1 paddlers, the event's significance cuts much deeper than proving athletic prowess: Both have seen Alzheimer's disease ravage their fathers and, simultaneously, anguish their families. However hard this feat will be for the racers, they say it pales compared to experiencing this horrific disease.

Now in its third year, the " Memory Paddle Challenge" is one of the country's longest and most grueling paddling events. Dwyer, 43, and Eldridge, 53, were tapped to participate after LIAF put out a call for competitors last spring. With the event gaining national attention, kayakers from as far as San Diego and Seattle responded to the invite.

"We found a perfect match. Both men are extremely committed to the sport and to the cause," said Eric J. Hall, LIAF's chief executive officer. At the stroke of noon on July 8, the seasoned athletes will launch LIAF's 23-foot custom-built kayak from Danfords on the Sound in Port Jefferson, NY. They will travail about 40 miles a day, at an average six miles per hour, before re emerging in Port Jefferson Harbor on July 14. The kayakers, both psychologists who know each other from the paddling circuit, have raced together in a tandem sea kayak just once before -- a trial race at the United States Canoe Association National Marathon Canoe and Kayak Championships in Hanover, NH last August, beating the only other crew that competed.

Dwyer approached Eldridge about tossing their hat in the ring for the Challenge, unaware then that Alzheimer's disease had also struck Eldridge's family. I thought, "This is too serendipitous.' It's a chance to honor my father and highlight the disease through a sport I love," says Dwyer, whose dad, Francis J. Dwyer, died from Alzheimer's-related complications in 1990.

Besides the challenge of the event, Dwyer gets fired up that his involvement will enable LIAF to help others struggling with Alzheimer's to reap resources that were wanting for his parents at the time. "They had to go it alone," he said. In contrast, LIAF is providing quality of life services for patients and caregivers. Dwyer, a school psychologist in East Greenwich, RI, earned the men's marathon K-1 open kayak title last summer in his first try at the Nationals. He has placed in the top three in every race he has entered since 2000. Likewise, the personal connection to the Challenge grabbed Eldridge, a clinical psychologist in private practice who got his Ph.D. from Adelphi University on Long Island.

His 87-year-old father, once a prominent economist, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's about two years ago, and "although still cheerful, he has lost most of his great intellect," said Eldridge. "Paddling," he says, "is a selfish pleasure and this is a way of building something altruistic into it." The champions have been training hard for the arduous task ahead, paddling dozens of miles solo eachweek and linking up for trial runs in the custom-built double kayak. Unknown weather conditions and some treacherous waters await them, especially as they ply the notorious HellGate and the East River through Manhattan and the tidal rips off Montauk Point."

To do that many miles in seven days will be a tall order," says Dwyer. Major sponsors of this year's Challenge are: Battelle Memorial Institute, which co-manages Brookhaven National Laboratory, Danfords on the Sound, Tag Motors of Medford, which has donated the recreational vehicle that will follow the kayakers and the Wal-Mart Foundation.

Proceeds from the event will fund LIAF's innovative educational and social services. The public is invited to sponsor " paddle strokes" at $1 each, representing the some 250,000 strokes per kayaker for the journey. Contributions can be sent to LIAF, 5 Channel Drive, Port Washington, NY 11050. For more information, call 1-866-789-5423 or visit www.liaf.org