Mike and Willis Brown, a father-son duo, are no strangers to charitable events. Mike co-founded the Cape Cod Bay Challenge in Massachusetts in 2008. They had seven paddlers that first year; last year there were 75, all helping to raise money for Christopher’s Haven, which provides housing and support networks to children and their families as they deal with cancer.
Team Brown is bringing their savvy to the west coast after in the form of the California Challenge. The Browns will paddle 60 kilometers from Cardiff to Dana Point for Mike’s sixtieth birthday on May 13. They’ll be raising money for Journey Forward, a spinal cord rehabilitation facility that has had a big impact on their family: Willis’ brother, once an avid skier and surfer, was paralyzed from the neck down while on ski patrol. He uses Journey Forward as part of his recovery program. Willis gives SUP mag the details.
SUP mag: Tell me about your brother’s accident.
WB: His injury was while he was on patrol at Aspen Snowmass. Our buddy Craig, who is head of ski patrol there, says it’s one of two accidents that he hasn’t been able to figure out how it happened. It was a hard pack day; no tracks, nothing to lead them to a conclusion of how he fell. He doesn’t know what happened. They found him lying against a tree, which saved his life. If he’d been on his stomach he may have suffocated and on his back he may have choked on blood.
SUP mag: How has it been for you?
WB: It’s the most inspirational thing I’ve seen in my whole life: from seeing him the day of the injury to now, the ups and downs my whole family has gone through in that time has been amazing. It’s brought us closer together. He’s been such an inspiration with how he can continue his fight back and continue to love living after a tragic injury.
SUP mag: What does Journey Forward do for your brother?
WB: They keep his body flexible and his limbs and muscles moving and working so that they don’t forget their function. It’s a neurological-based rehab too. Without Journey Forward I don’t know what stage of recovery both physically and mentally he’d be at right now. It’s been so eye-opening and inspirational. We’re trying to raise $20,000, which would pay for two people to have two hours of rehab per week for a year.
SUP mag: Is your dad ready for this?
WB: Yeah. He’s been on the grind lately. Actually, he’s the one who introduced me to standup. So he’s been doing tons of distance and lots of SUP surfing as well. He also hops on his fat bike and on days he doesn’t get on the water he does a bunch of miles on the sand on that thing.
SUP mag: Impressive. How are you preparing for this?
WB: This is kind of just falling into my regular race training. A couple distance days, a couple interval days and trying to get out SUP surfing or traditional surfing everyday. I just spend as much time being active as possible and keep on the routine.
SUP mag: Any more details we should know about the Team Brown California Challenge?
WB: We hope to make it this an annual event. In the future, we want to have a paddle that’s done in one day and turns into a beach day for kids and families surfing and doing standup.
I’m incredibly grateful for the support we’ve gotten so far and for anyone that has contributed. I’m so thankful to be able to do this with my dad and show people there are a lot of things you can do and help people in a less fortunate state. —WT
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