Paddling Against Cancer: Charlie Howden’s Costa Rican Epic

August 13, 2016

Charlie Howden made plans for a SUP expedition along Costa Rica’s entire Pacific coastline to raise money against cancer. Then, he was diagnosed with cancer himself. He’s now four days into his mission, with no signs of slowing down. Photo courtesy of Charlie Howden

Charlie Howden made plans for a SUP expedition along Costa Rica’s entire Pacific coastline to raise money against cancer. Then, he was diagnosed with cancer himself. He’s now four days into his mission, with no signs of slowing down. Photo courtesy of Charlie Howden

Paddling Against Cancer: Charlie Howden’s Costa Rican Epic

Superhuman feats of endurance and mental toughness for charity are increasingly popular these days. Most people take on such feats in honor of friends or family who’ve been effected by an illness or tragedy, or simply to help a cause that’s dear to them.

Charlie Howden isn’t most people: His epic 400-mile SUP expedition along Costa Rica’s entire Pacific coastline—now underway and set to raise $50,000 for the William Guy Forbeck Research Fund (WGFRF)—may seem similar to other expeditions, but Howden’s story has a major twist.

Howden himself has cancer – the same disease for which WGFRF does its research.

When Howden first developed the idea for his Costa Rican quest in March 2012, he was perfectly healthy and fit, with no signs of the stage IV pancreatic cancer he was to be diagnosed with in August of 2013. He simply loved the sport of SUP, and adored Costa Rica. An epic paddle there just seemed natural for the accomplished sailor and paddler.

“I was coming to the end of a yacht job in March 2012 in Florida, and while on watch, I started looking at one of my favorite places, Costa Rica,” recalls Howden. “Within 20 minutes I had put a route into the navigation system along the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica, from its northern border to its southern, and decided I was one day going to attempt this and raise money for charity.”

Even then, the idea to raise money for cancer research specifically was far from set in stone. Eight months later, a friend mentioned the WGFRF foundation. Howden had lost some close friends to cancer. He decided the WGFRF was a perfect match for his mission.

The expedition was set to begin in March 2014. Then, it happened—Howden was diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer. Suddenly, what was to be a purely philanthropic gesture became a personal calling. Charlie never questioned his commitment. He would beat the cancer, finish the paddle and raise money for his disease.

After a year of chemotherapy and a course of radiation therapy, Charlie was briefly in remission. But in December the doctors again found tumors, and more chemo was in order. He spent weeks alternating between treatment for his disease and training for his Costa Rican paddling trip.

“Throughout all of this, paddling stayed with me, kept me dreaming, pushing me to get back to fitness and keeping my mind positive,” Howden wrote during his brief remission. “It has kept me strong, and kept my dream alive to raise money for cancer research. It’s become more apparent to me to live my life. No point about wondering what effect this disease will have on me.”

On May 19, Charlie Howden—his body wracked from cancer and chemo but his spirit stronger and more determined than ever—put in at the northern tip of Costa Rica, planning to paddle 25 to 30 miles a day for approximately 12 days to the southern tip. The money raised—his goal is $50,000—will go towards helping other cancer patients live to see their own dreams fulfilled.

—Scott Boulbol

About WGFRF:

The mission of the William Guy Forbeck Research Foundation is to promote advances in the field of oncology, particularly pediatric oncology, by shortening the cancer research timetable. Established in 1985 by George and Jennifer Forbeck, from its inception the William Guy Forbeck Research Foundation has addressed its mission through a unique approach, by focusing on driving communications and collaborations between scientists and clinicians. Building these connections are vital facilitators of advancing oncology research.

Credit: SUPthemag

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