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Kiteboarding-4-Cancer evolves into something bigger and better

June 25, 2011

Over the last five years, the Hood River-based organization Kiteboarding for Cancer has changed and grown so much that it needed a new name: Athletes for Cancer.

And the changes, in turn, have spurred the organization's signature event to broaden its horizons.

Kiteboarding for Cancer, a fixture at the Event Site every July since 2007, is now known as the Tenacity Games. This year, it will be held at the Event Site and Waterfront Park July 8-10.

"We wanted to give everyone the opportunity to go out, use their favorite outdoor recreation, their passion, to raise money for this cause," said Tonia Farman, founder of the organization and the event.

Sparked by the death of her brother to leukemia, Farman turned to her passion, kiteboarding, to try and help others facing the challenges her brother faced during his illness.

She organized an event where kiteboarders would raise money - or pay a registration fee - prior to competing in several kiteboarding events over a weekend.

The money - including some larger donations - would all go toward cancer charities focusing on awareness, prevention and survivorship.

"It came out of the need to do something," Farman said. "When someone you love has cancer, you really are helpless. You suffer because you watch them suffer. That's why so many people who have been touched by cancer are so eager to participate in something like this."

The event took off, and athletes kept approaching her to add other sports. Last year, the event included stand-up paddleboarding. This year, kayaking has been added to the roster. Farman is open to adding other sports to future Tenacity Games.

"Tenacity is basically pushing yourself forward relentlessly," Farman said. "It's having fervor; despite challenges, you push forward."

Many of the events in the Tenacity Games live up to that mantra: a SUP endurance race from Viento to Waterfront Park; a 6-hour endurance kiteboarding race; a kayak endurance race starting up the White Salmon River and ending at the Event Site.

Yet another change to the event this year is, to Farman, the most significant. Instead of allocating the funds raised to cancer charities, all the money will now go to support survivorship programs in the form of "adventure camps" that Athletes for Cancer has organized in both Hood River and Hawaii for cancer survivors.

The survivorship programs are aimed at 18- to 40-year-olds - the category with the highest mortality rate for cancer. People in this age group also face unique challenges ranging from entering the adult world of jobs and relationships, breaking the tether to parents, affording insurance, figuring out and pursuing life goals and a myriad of others.

"People in their 20s and 30s are the most underserved group in the world of cancer," Farman said. "With all these unique sets of issues, we realized cancer survivors in this age group needed something that would help them regain confidence to face life after cancer."

Athletes for Cancer held its first survivorship camp in April, in Hawaii, where 10 cancer survivors spent a week learning to surf and stand-up paddleboard.

"Many of them started the week scared of going in the water, scared of the ocean, scared of the fish in the water," Farman said. By the end of the week, they were surfing and paddling, and each had accomplished a unique personal challenge designed specifically for them.

"We want to empower them to go out and learn something new," Farman said. The idea behind this concept - a new area known as "adventure therapy" - is that it helps cancer survivors face other challenges in their life after the daunting and intimidating gauntlet of a cancer diagnosis and treatment.

Farman said she's received feedback from nearly all the camp participants about how much it has helped them. And the group itself has formed a strong bond, getting together several times in the past few months.

Farman has three camps scheduled in the next six months. There will be a SUP camp in August in Hood River, and two more camps in Hawaii in October and November. The money raised at the Tenacity Games makes it possible to offer the camps for free; participants pay only for transportation to and from the camp.

Farman has been busy trying to get the word out about the camps. She said it's challenging because many survivors - especially younger ones - don't want to be labeled as going to "cancer camp."

"This is not a therapy session where you go out and talk about cancer," Farman said. "We use outdoor adventure to push limits and meet challenges." If participants want to talk about their individual stories during camp, that's fine, but talk therapy is not the goal, said Farman.

But for now, it's full speed ahead for the Tenacity Games, less than two weeks away. Along with the water-sports events, there's a host of activities for kids and families, demos, silent and live auctions, live music and food vendors.

For more information and a complete schedule, go to www.tenacitygames.com.

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