The statistics are staggering: According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime and an estimated 2,470 men are diagnosed with breast cancer annually. As researchers work tirelessly to find a cure, the disease continues to claim hundreds of thousands of lives worldwide each year.
That’s why Sunny VerMaas, principal broker with Maui Paradise Properties, signed up for the fifth annual Maui Paddle for a Cure at the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa on Saturday, Oct. 13.
To commemorate Breast Cancer Awareness month in October, dozens of stand-up, kayak, and canoe paddlers took to the water to promote breast cancer awareness and raise funds for Susan G. Komen Hawaii, which sponsors breast cancer education and screening and treatment initiatives in Hawaii.
This year’s Maui Paddle for a Cure was presented by the Hyatt Regency Maui in partnership with The Butterfly Effect and Maui Jim. In the weeks leading up the event, participants collect donations individually or as a team. In its first four years, Maui Paddle for a Cure raised more than $115,000 for Susan G. Komen Hawaii through donations and registration fees; event organizers set a fundraising goal of $55,000 for last month’s event and are still tallying donations.
At this fun-filled, non-competitive fundraising event, there are no race bibs or timers—only smiles, hugs, and words of encouragement. Some of the participants are breast cancer survivors. And nearly all have been affected by cancer in some way.
VerMaas is no exception. “I don’t know anyone who hasn’t been affected during their lifetime by someone close to them who has battled this disease,” she said. So, when three of her clients suggested she and her assistant, Diane Bercik, stand-up paddleboard (SUP) with them at an annual event benefitting Susan G. Komen Hawaii, VerMaas says they signed up without a moment’s hesitation. “I was aware of the event, but this was the first time I participated,” she said.
And here’s the other thing: It was only her second time on a stand-up paddleboard.
In spite of being a novice, VerMaas says the prospect of paddling a few miles along the Kaanapali shoreline didn’t faze her. “I decided I was going to go for it. I mean, what’s the worst that could happen—fall off the board and get back on? So that’s what I did,” she said. “I was a little shaky at first, but once the paddle was in the water and forward movement occurred, it was much easier.”
VerMaas credits the fluid nature of the event (both in and out of the water) to its organizers. From the very start, she said, “It was just wonderfully organized. The Hyatt did an outstanding job making sure all the people arriving with their equipment knew exactly where to go, and made sure the participants got their welcome bags and GPS tags [to track them out on the water]. The blessing was beautifully poignant and drew us all in as a group before the event started.”
After that, VerMaas said all of the paddlers—rookies, pros, and everyone in between—headed for the water. “Again, the organizers of this event were right on the money,” she said. “They had many experienced people in the water helping to launch participants on their boards and people in canoes and kayaks encouraging participants and giving SUP tips. And people were there to help when participants finished the course.”
And the proverbial icing on the cake was the after party at the Hyatt Regency Maui. It had all of the trimmings: a buffet, silent auction, vendor booths, a lei po‘o (flower crown) lounge, and live entertainment by award-winning singer and songwriter Anuhea (who also participated in the event). “It was such fun to see so many people I know who came out for this truly inspiring event,” VerMaas said.
It was her first Maui Paddle for a Cure—and VerMaas says it definitely won’t be her last. “We have made outstanding progress and contributed significant funds to battle this dreadful disease,” she said. “And we need to continue the fight.”