Fighting Cancer on the Flatwater
How Flatwater Foundation supports cancer patients
by Avery Tanner
Photographs by Caleb Kerr
Flatwater Foundation is fighting cancer their own way – mentally.
Mark Garza started paddle-boarding and meditating after his father’s cancer diagnosis in 2009. “I began going out on the water every morning when I got the news that my dad had 12 months to live, and I realized what that activity was doing for me over time through meditating,” Garza says.
Garza realized that mental health is an important – and often overlooked – aspect of the fight against cancer. That’s when he founded Flatwater Foundation.
The foundation pays for counseling services for cancer patients and their loved ones. The counseling is provided by skilled professionals and lasts as long as the patient needs. In 2018, Flatwater Foundation provided $1.5 million worth of therapy in Austin.
“We’re all for the cure and we believe in finding a cure, but in my own personal experience with cancer in my family, I’ve encountered the importance of the mind,” says Chelsea Hardee, Director of Development.
Hardee first became involved with Flatwater when her husband Trey Hardee, a two-time Olympian and world champion decathlete, agreed to do a promo campaign for Flatwater Foundation in 2012. Fast forward a few years and Chelsea was volunteering with the foundation before eventually being hired to join the team.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the foundation’s landmark event, Tyler’s Dam That Cancer, where participants will paddle 21 miles down Lake Austin to support the cause. Paddle boarding has been essential to the creation and growth of the foundation, so it’s only natural their premier event involves the activity.
Many participants are cancer survivors themselves or have close family members currently fighting cancer. They are motivated by the mission, and not simply the endurance challenge.
Sponsors cover 100 percent of the event costs, so every dollar raised by the paddlers goes directly to the foundation’s programming. Last year, participants raised $800,000. The goal for this year’s event: $1 million.
“Dam That Cancer is really special because it’s a community event. The paddlers are people who live in Austin. They’re raising money here and that money is staying here locally and helping families in need here,” explains Hardee.
Tyler’s Dam That Cancer will take place on June 10th. To get involved, donate to the paddlers’ fundraising pages or volunteer at this year’s event.