The Observer stumbled — or, more correctly, tumped into — a way to get smack in the middle of the estrogen-fueled celebration that is the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure and not suffer acute agoraphobia or vehicular stress. We pass it on in the interest of rescuing others from getting elbowed for the cure.

The easy way to participate is to get in a kayak and paddle down the Arkansas River until just past the Broadway Bridge and then turn around and look up. There you’ll see the pink hoards running, jogging and walking in honor of their mothers, sisters, friends — and of course survivors of breast cancer themselves.

The year 2004 was Pam Hendrick’s fifth cancer-free year. She’d taken up kayaking — had gone to Ozark Outdoor Supply intending to sell advertising and walked out an hour later with a kayak on her car — to improve her upper body strength. She decided she’d do her part for the Komen Foundation that year by water.

Race day dawned cold and wet and none of the friends she’d asked to go along had shown at the boat ramp at Burns Park as she got into her boat. She was pretty darned sad — until their truck roared up and she heard them yell to wait up. On the way down river, they joked about paddling for the cure.

In the two years since, the original five has grown to 30 or more. Hendrick promoted the event herself in 2005 after hearing from racers how much they enjoyed seeing the kayaks in the river. This year, the boaters came in costume — wearing hats that looked like chickens, hats covered with frogs, wrapped in fuschia boas — and launched canoes and kayaks of all dimensions, including a sleek wooden Pygmy made from a kit by its owner, himself a cancer survivor.

The Observer is pretty chicken-hearted, but was coaxed into paddling for the cure by some water-loving wenches who have spare kayaks the way some women have spare shoes. Kayaks look pretty easy to paddle, the way they dart around like water bugs. In reality, a kayak does not go straight in the hands of a beginner, but make S-shapes down the river. Kayak paddling takes upper arm strength that people who type for a living seldom have.

Despite the fact that The Observer fell into the river before our kayak was fully into the water, despite the fact that we couldn’t keep up with the rest, despite the fact that we were soaking wet from the waist down, it was great Saturday morning. Sheriff’s and Coast Guard volunteers made sure we didn’t drown as we slipped into the river an hour before the runners so we could greet them at the bridge. The full moon was still in the sky. Nature’s amazing sounds — honking geese, lapping water, Craig O’Neill at the microphone — filled our ears. We saw a sunken boat and fancy houses and, then, the Baring Cross Bridge. It was not a view we ever anticipated having — watching Union Pacific trains crossing over our heads. Then we saw the Broadway Bridge, over which thousands of women moved, and the Main Street Bridge, over which thousands more moved. We sat in our vessels between the bridges, bobbing up and down in the middle of the Arkansas, waving at the women above. One walker, apparently seeing we were a few fuschia boas short, dropped her own off the bridge down to the river, where a kayaker scooped it up.

The Komen people can’t sanction Pam Hendrick’s Paddle for the Cure because of liability. But they love it, and encourage her to do it again every year. It’s another way for guys to participate, too — though joining up with the men doing Yoga for the Cure, standing in Proud Warrior at Chester and Sixth Streets in their tight little togs, would surely be fun, too.

About those big wedges of concrete at the north and south entrances to the Big Dam Bridge. The county told The Times last week that they weighed 2.5 to 3 tons. Make that 12.5 tons, they now say.



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