Thursday, February 5, 2009

Day 36: A Special One

Today is not just another day on the ocean. Eight years ago today, early in the morning of February 5th, 2001, my mom, Kathie Ridley, passed away from malignant melanoma after a brutally short four-month battle with the disease. Despite chemotherapy and consultations with expert oncologists at a major New York City cancer hospital, the treatments available to her were not enough to save her life or even buy her much time.

I was 17 years old in February of 2001, and I witnessed her struggle unfold at a particularly formative point in my life when, as a senior in high school, I was beginning to realize that the decisions I made in the next several years would go a long way toward determining who I'd be as an adult. The impact my mom's death had on me was profound, and is single-handedly responsible for where I am at this very moment -- 31 degrees 35 minutes West, 18 degrees 20 minutes North -- in a 19-foot boat 359 nautical miles from the nearest land (Cape Verde) and 1,736 nautical miles from the end of my journey.

Every year I treat this day as an opportunity to reflect on the progress in my life over the last 12 months, and particularly my most meaningful successes and failures. This year, as you can imagine, much of my focus has been on Row for Hope. Here the jury is still out because, despite the fact that the expedition is going well, there is a lot of progress still to be made on the fund raising front. Unlike other expeditions, the success or failure of Row for Hope will be decided not by miles rowed, but by dollars raised.

Through this row I'm hoping to make a statement in as bold a way as I know how -- that cancer research matters and the pace of life-saving progress must be accelerated with additional funding.

Row for Hope has been lucky to be supported by so many passionate donors and volunteers. We've benefited from bake sales and bus trips, jeans days, Superbowl pool winnings, donors young and old, classrooms, companies, big checks, loose change, and heart-felt encouragement nearly everywhere we go. For this support I am personally very grateful.

If you enjoy following Row for Hope and my expedition, or know someone who has been affected by cancer, today would be a great day to make a donation by visiting If you've already donated and would consider donating again, please do. Keep an eye out for a post from Peter Lamothe of Yale Cancer Center with more detail on how your donation will be put to work to accelerate the remarkable progress that takes place there every day.




Anonymous said...

Made our donation today, in memory of your Mom - having waited this long because we thought Theta Chi's fund raising efforts at Colgate might include an internet outreach. Sounds like that may not work, so emailed an outreach of our own to our entire address book!

Be well, be safe and row hard!
A Colgate Mom

Marlene said...

Hi Paul (and Joy),
I am so sorry that today has such a sad meaning attatched to it. I can only imagine how both of your lives have been changed by the loss of you mom. I do believe though that she would be very proud of both of you. Keep up the rowing and continue to take care. Love, Marlene

Anonymous said...

Hi Paul and Joy,
Thinking of your mom a lot today --her good questions about everything and love of good food -- times spent around your kitchen table with our small group. Thinking of you both in these days of memory.
Allyson A.

K-Rock and #1 Wild Bill said...

Hi Buddy - There are no words to describe how proud we are of you.
Head in the game, ass in the boat. xxoo - The Tomics

Susan said...

Hi Paul,

Reading your note and Joy's today was emotional and humbling for me. Emotional in the sense that, as with many of us, you know I have also lost loved ones to cancer, and the anniversaries are dates you will never forget no matter the number of passing years - my father: November 16th, my mother: January 4th. Humbling in the sense that, while most of us make the typical request for "donations in lieu of flowers," it never occurred to me to do anything on par with rowing the Atlantic. Imagine if we all had your level of commitment to this cause - cancer would likely already be a thing of the past.

On the home front, the economy is still a challenge and I'm sure this has affected the amount of donations you have been hoping to receive thus far, but as you have said, the fundraising is a long-term effort that will continue past this economic bump in the road - like you told me one time, once you're the "guy who did it" the opportunities for you to bring even more attention to the cause will multiply.

As you may or may not know, there have been some layoffs at GA - it's just the way of the world right now - and my luck ran out with this round. As such, I am not sure whether or not our paths will cross again, though I hope so!! But either way, please know that I'll always be putting out the "word" about you and doing everything I can for the cause.

Keep your spirits up! I still check the blog every day - thoughts and prayers always with you!! Row, row, row your boat - and be safe!!!

Susan T.

Bill R. said...


I see you are doing 3 knots west today. I guess the hull cleaning paid off...

Keep up the nice work. You are doing a great job and making good headway.

Row hard, no excuses.

Mrs. B said...

Dear Paul,
My 8th grade English classes have been folowing your journey and are inspired by your dedication and determiation. They wanted to get involved and have written blog posts to encourage everyone to donate to your incredible cause. I am going to post a sample of their writing below. Please know that all of our thoughts are with you, and we are wishing you a safe and successful journey!
Mrs. B. and her 8th grade students

* * *
Dear Readers,
Mr. Ridley is a man of great courage and perseverance. He has set out on a journey in a small row boat to help cancer victims. Mr. Ridley shows that anything is possible if you set your mind to it. About three years ago, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer, even though she was a healthy and fit woman. She had gotten the disease like many others have, through her genes. This is something you have no power over. The “Row for Hope” organization shows that anything can be done with the right amount of spirit and determination, even curing cancer. Mr. Ridley is putting his own life on the line to help people fight this disease. The one word that stands out from others to describe his actions is heroic. Now we need to be like Mr. Ridley and have his spirit and help this great cause. So please, donate for the thousands of cancer victims fighting this disease!
* * *
Do you know someone who has coped with cancer? Do you know someone who has rowed across the Atlantic Ocean alone? Well, we know someone who has done both of these things. Paul Ridley’s mom passed away in 2001 from skin cancer, and currently he is rowing across the Atlantic Ocean in the hope of helping others who have gone or are going through the same situation. You may be wondering why he did not just ask for money? He is trying to prove that rowing across the Atlantic Ocean is not impossible, and neither is finding a cure for cancer! Being out on the water for 80 days and 80 nights is risky but it really goes to show that hope and determination can take us anywhere. Some people would rather keep their money for a rainy day instead of giving it to others, but think about how cancer families feel; every day for them is a rainy day and still all of the money they put aside may not be enough. If we all give a little, we could make a difference in cancer research. Please donate to “Row for Hope” today!
* * *
Paddling through the ripples, Florida ahead and Africa left behind, Paul Ridley is single-handedly rowing across the Atlantic Ocean to spread awareness and help others cope with the disease that affected his family and about 30% of the US population. Sunshine beaming down on the clear blue water, determination keeping him going, only Mr. Ridley and the surrounding horizon motivates him to “land-ho!” You must donate to this cause because it is proof that you can do anything you set your mind to. Determination kept Paul Ridley going while his mother and father battled cancer. He has determination the way we have water: an endless supply. If everyone in New York City donated just $1, Mr. Ridley would have $8 million already! How can you say no? Donate money today!
* * *
Approximately 30% of Americans have or have had cancer. The need to find a cure is pressing and many organizations are ready to help. As we prepare ourselves for economic challenges, we must make wise decisions about which causes to support. For those in doubt, Paul Ridley’s “Row for Hope” stands above the rest. While other organizations simply ask for donations, Mr. Ridley is rowing from Africa to Florida to earn your checks. He is living proof that nothing is impossible. He is going the extra mile to find a cure and your donations will help him and mankind. Please help his cause and donate today!
* * *
We all know the main goal of cancer charities is to find a cure. But why donate to this charity over the many other groups out there? Well, “Row for Hope” stands out because unlike other charities, Paul Ridley is willing to go to drastic measure to raise awareness and funds for the fight against cancer. Paul is putting the cause in front of himself by doing the unthinkable: rowing solo from Africa to Florida. Many people would consider this task to be impossible, just as they would think finding a cure would be out of reach, too. However, Paul is out to prove them wrong. His goal is to show what determination and the human spirit can really do. So, make the right choice and donate to “Row for Hope” today!