Interview by Rebecca Parsons

Saltwater is nature's medicine. It's good for your skin, your mental health and it helps fight inflammation. It also has incredible benefits for individuals battling cystic fibrosis.

In 2011, Travis Suit's daughter Piper was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis. Once Suit learned of the incredible benefits of saltwater, he set out to raise awareness and money for folks battling the illness. Alongside three friends, he paddled ninety miles from Bimini to Florida in 2013 and raised $15,000 for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

Piper Suit was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis in 2011. Photo: Lori Griffith

Three years later, Suit launched the Piper's Angels Foundation in an effort to support families battling cystic fibrosis. Crossing for a Cure celebrated its fifth crossing this summer and the hundreds of thousands of dollars that have been raised in the process.  We caught up with Suit to learn about the challenges of living with CF, the amazing benefits of saltwater and future plans for the organization. –RP

Can you tell us more about cystic fibrosis?

Cystic fibrosis is a progressive genetic disease with no cure. It affects 1,600 families in Florida and 30,000 in the U.S.. The presence of a defective gene causes an over-abundance of mucous production in the organs, which leads to disastrous complications such as recurring lung infections and limited nutrient absorption.  Cystic fibrosis has a wide range of severity depending on the genetic variation; however, most CF patients experience chronic issues from birth and are on a regimented routine of breathing therapies and drug treatments every day to battle the symptoms.

Piper’s father, Travis Suit. Photo: Talia Schizzano

Why is the ocean and saltwater so good for people with CF? 

The ocean, and saltwater activities in general, are so beneficial for CF patients because of the sodium chloride (table salt) that is in the air and water. When breathed into the lungs, it helps to hydrate the lining of the lungs, provide better airway clearance and reduces overall infection rates.  Salt is a natural antibiotic and salt-laden air permeates our airway and lungs. There is also the psychological benefits of enjoying time in a fun, positive environment.

Why did you choose SUP as a way to raise money/awareness about CF?

After learning about the saltwater connection to cystic fibrosis, I was looking for ways to get Piper out on the water more frequently. Paddleboarding was a natural fit.  The further I got into the sport, the more I realized the potential for doing endurance challenges that would really test your limits.

The long crossing begins before dawn. Photo: Lori Griffith

I saw guys out in Hawaii doing long distance paddles between islands and realized we could do that here in Florida.  In the summer of 2012, two Miami-based watermen, Bill Whiddon and Thaddeus Foote, accomplished their Bimini to Florida paddle and it became clear this could be a great opportunity to raise awareness for cystic fibrosis.

Tell us about Piper's Angels.

Piper’s Angels Foundation was a dream that began early on after seeing the challenges that many CF families face day in and day out. It's not always easy for families with CF to access saltwater environments, so one of our goals was to launch a ‘Salt Supply’ program. The program provides a network of saltwater-access providers to help these patients change their lifestyle in a more sustainable and positive way.

The Suit family reunited at the finish line. Photo: Lori Griffith

It was also very apparent that CF families can experience financial hardship at many times throughout their life—we wanted to provide financial grants as a shoulder to lean on during times of need.  We are very fortunate that the Crossing For A Cure has amazing sponsorship support which allows 100% of the funds raised by paddlers to go directly towards supporting the families we work with.

How much money were you able to raise through this year’s crossing? 

Over $280,000.

What is Piper's involvement in the crossing?

Piper always joins us in Bimini for the Crossing—she loves the Bahamas. She is also always there to greet us at the landing. She has mentioned many times that she wants to paddle in the crossing one day, possibly on a relay team.  She’s a super powerful little human being and I believe she can accomplish anything she sets her mind to, so it would be very special to see her paddle in the future.

Travis hopes one day Piper can join him for the crossing. Photo: Lori Griffith

Plans for the future of the organization? 

We are laser-focused on growing our programs globally to reach as many CF patients and families as possible.  Our aim is to continue to build the Crossing For A Cure into one of the most prestigious paddle challenges and races in the world, which will allow us to make a bigger impact in the CF community.

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