For paddleboard enthusiasts along the coastal towns of southern Palm Beach County who consider their sport more than recreation, “The Crossing” is the Holy Grail: an epic 83-mile marathon from Bimini to Lake Worth Beach that demands physical, mental and emotional fortitude.
As the calendar turns over to June 25, roughly 200 such enthusiasts will enter the Atlantic Ocean from the beach in Bimini and head west across what they hope will be relatively calm Gulf Stream waters. They will fight fatigue, dehydration and exposure to the sun in hopes of arriving late that afternoon at the Lake Worth Beach pier.
Among them in this 10th annual event will be Ocean Ridge resident Cat Kelly, who just 15 months ago underwent surgery on a torn labrum and biceps in her right arm.
Kelly is hoping to complete the solo crossing for the first time.
“She’s always been very adventurous, and loves the ocean,” her mother, Elizabeth Kelley-Grace, said of Cat, who spells her last name differently. “I’m very proud of her.”
Kelly, 28, hopes to raise $5,000 toward a nationwide effort aimed at a $1 million goal to fight cystic fibrosis. The organizer of this year’s event, Travis Suit of Palm Beach Gardens, whose daughter Piper was diagnosed with CF at age 4, organized Piper’s Angels in 2017 to raise money for the cause.
“The proceeds go not only to finding a cure but for medications, expenses … one of the medications costs $30,000, so these families need help,” Kelly said.
More than 120 support boats, including 20 to 30 medical boats, will provide food and water, and first aid if necessary. Participants will be leashed to their boards, must remain within 30 feet of their boats at all times and are not allowed to draft off the wake of any boat.
“You have 16-18 hours to complete it, and you burn 400-600 calories every hour, so you have to be replacing those calories,” Kelly said. “You can get dehydrated and not realize it, so the crew will say, ‘You have to drink more water,’ or ‘You have to eat this food.’”
The crew’s basic task is “pretty much making sure they keep the paddler alive,” Kelly said. “During the day you’re in the salt water, in the sun, and at night you’re paddling in pitch blackness.”
Kelly has been training for six months on an almost daily basis, with an extended paddle of 20 to 30 miles once or twice a month. She has participated in the past on relays and finishing what others started, but this will be her first time doing the whole paddle solo.
“If it’s a scary, windy day, and you’re saying, ‘There’s no way I’m putting my board in the water,’ then go for it. Go against the wind, get as many miles as you can,” she said.
As difficult as the crossing is physically, it can be even harder emotionally, Kelly said.
“One year a guy had just broken up with his girlfriend and he cried the whole way,” she said. “But some of the toughest is near the end. You can see the shore about 5 miles out, but by late afternoon the wind can be coming offshore and it seems to take forever to get to the beach.
“It’s not like I go out every day and paddle 83 miles, but I have been paddleboarding my entire life. I have been on the water my entire life. I’m a very athletic person, so I feel
I’m ahead of the curve.”
When Kelly is not on the water she is an entrepreneur in the health care business as founder and owner of CKG Management.
Anyone interested in donating to Kelly’s cause can do so at www.classy.org/fundraiser/4241329.
— Brian Biggane
Q: Where did you grow up and go to school? How do you think that has influenced you?
A: I was born and raised in Boca Raton, but spent almost all of my time in Delray Beach and Dog Beach, surfing and enjoying the ocean. I related to the Delray Beach culture, the surfing community, the arts and the people. The slow, peaceful, local supportive community of Delray set my ideals and morals for life moving forward.
I used to get to class late every morning and quickly change out of my bathing suit in the school bathrooms after I spent my mornings in the ocean. From diving, surfing and fishing, I fell in love with the ocean and the community here. I attended Spanish River High School and Space of Mind in Delray Beach.
Q: What professions have you worked in? What professional accomplishments are you most proud of?
A: I have spent my career working in the mental health and addiction field and am passionate about my work. I work with clients and their families both locally and in other parts of the country. I am proud to have advanced in this field at a young age and am especially proud to help people who are suffering from mental health issues and addiction.
Most recently I have been able to venture out on my own and become a fully independent worker. Being able to make my own schedule and have the freedom to work at my own pace with each client has been a big step for me. It was absolutely terrifying making the jump, but I am so grateful that I did.
Q: What advice do you have for a young person seeking a career today?
A: There is so much pressure and emphasis placed on kids today to know what they want to do when they grow up. My advice would be to let your life experiences guide you in your career and in your life. If you follow your heart and listen to your intuition, you’ll be guided into a career that matches your personal characteristics and gifts.
Q: How did you choose to make your home in Ocean Ridge?
A: It is an unspoiled oasis that has not yet been overdeveloped. I am passionate about the environment, our beaches and ocean and love the footprint of original houses populated by multigenerational Floridians who care about the coastline and the habitat.
Q: What is your favorite part about living in Ocean Ridge?
A: The people! There is so much camaraderie of like-minded people who love the ocean, love dogs, and legitimately care about their neighbors. Each individual in this community brings something wonderful to it.
Q: What book are you reading now?
A: My latest read is: The Everglades: River of Grass, by Marjory Stoneman Douglas. I also reread The Five People You Meet in Heaven, which restored my excitement for reading.
Q: What music do you listen to when you want to relax? When you want to be inspired?
A: I like traditional country, folk and bluegrass, as well as roots reggae.
Q: Have you had mentors in your life? Individuals who have inspired your life decisions?
A: I’ve had many people who have inspired and guided me along the way. My parents are both entrepreneurs and I saw firsthand their hard work yet joy in building a business.
Another mentor is Ali Kaufman of Space of Mind in Delray. I went there after feeling like I was not succeeding in public school. She recognized me as a unique individual and allowed me to learn in a way that best suited me.
Lastly, Patrick Heaney, the first person who taught me how to surf, dive and guided me in the ocean. He taught me about the importance and impact we as individuals have on this ecosystem. He taught me to face my fears of sharks and certain marine life that naturally people should be afraid of.
Q: If your life story were made into a movie, who would play you?
A: My whole life I’ve been told that I look like a young Katie Holmes. I’ve never seen it, but everyone is always very adamant that I remind them of her.
Q: Is there something people don’t know about you but should?
A: At age 10 I was the captain of an all-boys hockey team. It’s a good metaphor for me making my own path.
For the most part I’m an open book. If I am being honest, though, everyone always thinks I’m tough and can handle anything and everything. I take on a lot and can handle a lot of different personalities.
Deep down though, I am a highly sensitive and empathetic person, which is why I probably put such a strong wall up.