In his 43 years on this earth, David Mangum has spent about half an hour in a kayak.
By the end of next week, he ought to be a pro.
On Saturday, Mangum and 17 others will climb into kayaks and embark on the fourth annual Paddle for Hope Grand Slam Tour – an eight-day, 208-mile journey down the Neuse River from Raleigh to the coast. Organized by Hope Floats, a Relay for Life group, the trips have raised $87,000 for the American Cancer Society since 2011.
The group will camp overnight in towns along the way, and Smithfield is the first stop on the itinerary. Hope Floats will make an event of its arrival by hosting Pickin’ on Cancer, a free bluegrass concert and crafts fair, Saturday afternoon on the Town Commons. The paddlers will land that evening and spend the night in tents. Raffle tickets and food and craft sales at the event will benefit cancer research.
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The voyage will be a huge step up from the single afternoon Mangum spent gliding atop Buckhorn Reservoir, but he said he is committed to honoring the memory of his father, Bob, who died 12 years ago from lung cancer.
“I’m very nervous, very anxious about the whole trip, but I am determined to make it to the end,” he said. “I carry him, to this day, everywhere I go. He was my best friend, and he’ll be with me all 208 miles.
The paddle will make a fitting tribute, Mangum said, because his father served in the Navy, and many of their best times together involved fishing rods, ponds and oceans.
“We’d go hours and not catch a thing,” Mangum said. “He always knew so much about fishing, and we caught so little fish, but I realize it was more about the time together.”
It was after an exceptionally fruitful drum fishing trip in November 2002 that doctors found a black spot on Bob’s lung. The 59-year-old underwent radiation and put up a tough fight, Mangum said, but he passed away five months later, far sooner than the doctors had warned or the family had expected.
It broke Mangum’s heart to see his father lose his mental and physical abilities, he said, especially because it happened so quickly.
“I carried him to just about all his treatments, and I cherish those talks we had going to those,” he said.
After watching his brother-in-law take part in the last two Paddle for Hope trips, Mangum said, he decided to get involved and raise money to continue the fight against cancer. Mangum, who lives in Johnston County and owns Flower Hill Auction and Estates, signed his business up as a corporate sponsor of the event. That’s in addition to his fundraising efforts.
Chris Tart created Hope Floats with his wife, Kim, after her battle with thyroid cancer. The couple began kayaking together to help Kim get in better shape and relieve some stress during her treatment, and then they decided to turn their hobby into a fundraiser for their Relay for Life team.
The trip down the Neuse is no vacation, Chris Tart said, and the challenge serves as a metaphor for the struggle cancer patients face.
“If you’re diagnosed with cancer … you’ve got a long road ahead of you,” he said. “It’s very hard; nobody can do it for you, and, ideally, you get through it because you’ve got a good support team around you.”
“And that’s kind of what kayaking 208 miles is like,” Tart said. “It’s very hard, it’s mentally challenging, you don’t know what to expect day to day, you have to do the paddling yourself, and you get the strength to get through it from the team.”
Hope Floats Pickin’ on Cancer
What: Free bluegrass concert and craft fair to welcome Paddle for Hope kayakers to Smithfield.
When: 2-7 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Smithfield Town Commons.
Bands: Staggered Rails, Victoria Lee & Newground, Al Batten & Friends and Carolina Tradition Bluegrass.