Crossing for a Cure paddler, Alice Henley overcomes defeat and finds her WHY in helping others.
WARNING: The following story will inspire you. It will motivate you and ask you to reflect on your WHY or purpose behind your actions. Alice Henley, rediscovers her athletic edge on the long passage between Bimini and the Florida coast, on a prone board, to raise money for people in need. And, in doing so, she discovers a much deeper reason to participate in paddle sports. Aloha, Alice. We salute YOU!
Crossing for a Cure: Some Background on the Event
Crossing for a Cure is an 80-mile distance paddle originated in 2013 with just four paddlers who were close friends and who wanted to make an impact in the Cystic Fibrosis community. The founder, Travis Suit, has a beautiful, young daughter named Piper who was born with the condition. As Travis and his family learned about the disease, he discovered salt water is very therapeutic as the salt in the air helps alleviate the degenerating lung conditions present in patients with Cystic Fibrosis.
Travis began recreationally stand up paddling with Piper, and eventually came up with the idea for Crossing for a Cure, a benefit paddle to serve the needs of the CF community. Today, XFAC paddlers raise funds to paddle (SUP, kayak, prone, outrigger and dory) from Bimini in the Bahamas back to Florida mainland. Now, in it’s 12th year, the Crossing is a major event benefiting an organization known as Piper’s Angels, named after Travis’ daughter. Each year, the paddle grows exponentially.
M2O to Crossing for a Cure: Defeat, Disappointment & Rising Again
For the second or third year of the event, I was working as a lifeguard at Dania, Florida and a few of my friends from the SUP community were participating in the crossing when it was still only a handful of paddlers. That day, I watched them appear on the ocean over the horizon, and they landed on the sand right in front of my tower! I remember how magical it was and knew I wanted to be a part of it. However, at that time, I hadn’t quite conquered the distance necessary to be at that level.
A few years went by and I pursued other paddles, still keeping XFAC in mind. My goal was to complete the Molokai 2 Oahu paddle on a prone board, and I entered as part of a relay to get my feet wet. Then, I continued training for another year to make the fabled M2O crossing solo. In order to really tell about my experience in the Crossing this year, I have to give a brief version of my Molokai experience.
The year I crossed from Molokai to Oahu solo, I put everything in my entire life on the back burner: job, money, relationships, other sports, school, body, family, friends, my sanity, EVERYTHING. I trained harder and more specifically than I ever had for any other athletic endeavor, and I’ve completed Ironman, ultramarathons and 7 Boston Marathons. This time, I decided I would do it right with 100% focus. And I did. Sadly, however, my boat captain that year only gave me about 5%. I’ll tell you for sure I would not have won under the best of circumstances. I would not have placed or broken any records; however, it should never have happened the way it did. I’ll just say I’m lucky to have not floated to Australia.
“I finished Molokai but there was no satisfaction, no fulfillment, no epiphany. I felt robbed. I swore off paddling, and planned to sell my boards and make a comeback in running.”
When I returned home from M2O, I was lost. I couldn’t shake the feeling of being devastated, sad, angry and crushed. I had defined my life timeline by this event. When I get to “here”, then I can proceed to “XYZ”. Well, what if I never made it to “here” in my mind? What’s next? I finished Molokai but there was no satisfaction, no fulfillment, no epiphany. I felt robbed. I swore off paddling, and planned to sell my boards eventually and make a comeback in running. I put my prone boards away and hung them up. I’d paddle for fun, but I never wanted to experience that loss again. If you don’t invest you can’t lose, I figured. I happily picked up my running shoes and went at it hard.
A Change in Direction: Discovering a New WHY for Competition
I remember watching coworkers complete the Crossing for a Cure the year before and it looked epic! But having had such a negative experience and being in a negative head space for so long, I was no longer tempted. However, when my friend and coworker Gina called me and said “We HAVE to do this”, there was something in me that flipped.
“This wasn’t about me and it didn’t matter what my time would be or how I would place. This was an adventure and an effort to use my athletic gift to help someone else.”
We are prone paddlers, and it is such a niche sport, that receives little recognition. I thought it would be cool to represent in this event. I just didn’t know if I had it in me to suffer again for what I felt like was no good reason. But, the Crossing is about something bigger than yourself. Gina reignited my my fire with this event. I saw something I could do for someone ELSE. This wasn’t about me and it didn’t matter what my time would be or how I would place. This was an adventure and an effort to use my athletic gift to help someone else.
The thought lifted me from my funk and it made me reaffirm my gratitude for any ability to finish Molokai. Here I was moping around and there are people that would give anything to physically be able to paddle AT ALL in any capacity. Doing Molokai means you are in the top .0001%. Who gets to go do that?! Just going is a gift!
Paddling with a Plan: Doing it for Others
I decided, with a revised training plan, that we would relay the event. I paddled my training paddles for fun to see the sunset or sunrise, to stretch my legs after a run or to catch waves. No longer drudgery, I enjoyed paddling again and set about raising funds for my Crossing. Serendipitously, I was contacted online by a local whose children are into prone paddling and he asked me to coach them. In lieu of compensation, he offered to donate to a charity. What timing!? The brand his sons founded, named Crepic, in support of everything Crazy & Epic became our sponsor! Everything fell into place.
2019 XFAC: Midnight Sea Sickness, Focused on the Goal
When we arrived in Bimini, the logistics were similar to Molokai, but without cell service or a car. There are meetings, gear to prep, boats to setup and the air is buzzing with excitement. Gina and I were doing our best to stay calm and rested while we enjoyed the island. Our boat captain and crew, who we found through the XFAC organization were amazing. They went above and beyond for us.
On the days leading up to the event, I was cool as a cucumber. Been there, done that. The night of the launch, however, standing on the beach I was shaking. My knees were quivering. I don’t know if it was from fear of paddling in the dark, which was a first (with the exception of some close-to-shore full moon paddles), or just anticipation.
I began the race at 1AM at launch and immediately tucked in behind our boat to get some light off the back. I decided to lay down and not take chances on my knees for fear of falling off in the dark. Plus, I wasn’t concerned with competitive speed at this point. Gina jumped on for the second leg and I realized right away that staying right behind the boat had exposed me to a lot of diesel fumes. I was sick immediately. Seasickness has plagued me in past events and I thought I would be OK for a few hours, but I started downing pills.
Sea Sickness Delivers Ugly Punch to Paddlers
Unfortunately I didn’t get the right ones in before I was projectile vomiting off the boat. Night time was rough, I was bored and then not. I could not tell if it had been 7 seconds, 7 minutes or 7 hours in the Crossing. I had a million things on my mind before this and now I had all this time to think. I’d get on the boat and try to think of things to think about for the next leg, but I felt so sick and delirious, I had no logical thoughts.
“I saw things in the white water. I felt slipstreams in the swash and just about lost it, screaming for the boat to come back. I was so out of it…”
At one point, we had to change course for a freighter. The boat pulled ahead of me a little and shut off its lights. I saw things in the white water. I felt slipstreams in the swash and just about lost it, screaming for the boat to come back. I was so out of it, I was convinced they planned all along to leave me, and started thinking I could make it to shore because I could see the glow of Miami. I planned how I’d survive and what a tale it would be. In reality they were getting the fumes away from me and shut off the lights to see the freighter. Insanity.
The Challenge to Overcome: Digging Deep to Find Purpose
When the sun came up, I knew it would be easier. I could get on my knees which would help with seasickness, and pick up my speed. We hit the Gulf Stream around sunrise and began a free ride in the best conditions I’ve ever paddled with speeds of 8-10mph, unheard of on a prone board. Soon thereafter we got a storm that boosted our speed even more. The miles ticked off. I broke out my iPod and jammed along. Unfortunately, as I got my sickness under control, Gina’s got worse. I paddled and she hung off the side of the boat, spewing a brown stream that I followed. I knew that misery intimately, and she handled it well. She powered through, and we ate up the distance. We were eventually told we were a good distance ahead of the other prone teams. Our excitement grew and our mutual competitive spirit kicked in as the free ride subsided. We now rode adrenaline instead of big runners.
“You are capable of so much more than you realize, but you must get your WHY correct.”
The final miles were tight between us and the next female prone team. They were closing on us. We had an excellent line, but they were sneaking up. Gina closed the last few miles. It was unreal to be coming up on the land we had seen hours ago, because – on the water – ten miles ago felt like ten minutes. This is known as the ‘distance paddle time warp’. I jumped off in the final hundred yards and Gina and I paddled in together on the board stacked one on top of the other. We ran up the finish chute hand in hand! It was unreal, beautiful, and… vindication.
Proud, Honored and Humbled: XFAC Delivers
I am so proud, honored and humbled by the experience. Going outside of myself for someone else actually ended up helping me in a deep, fulfilling way. I needed to do this for someone else. There had to be a deeper meaning beyond a glossy medal and some Instagram post. I didn’t realize I was Crossing to cure myself as well. I think often when we feel down and out, we must realize we are neither. You are capable of so much more than you realize, but you must get your WHY correct. If you have a why or need a why, I will show you HOW! Come, the ocean is calling!
Written by, Alice Henley
Crossing for Cystic Fibrosis: Event & Cause
Crossing for a Cure
To learn more about this event, renamed the Crossing for Cystic Fibrosis, visit their website:
Piper’s Angels Foundation:
To understand Piper’s Angels Foundation, the non-profit set up to support the CF community, and learn how you can support this amazing cause, visit: https://pipersangels.org/
Standup Journal is proud to be a Media Partner, supporting paddlers using their powers for good, of this event. We’ll see you next year in Bimini!