Sunday, June 13, a small but determined group of local kayaking enthusiasts will put their paddles in the water for a good cause, traveling the Yukon River from Rotary Park to Takhini River Bridge as part of Kayak for a Cure, a fundraiser for the Canadian Cancer Society that takes place in 8 other cities across North America.

Started in Vancouver in 2006, by two brothers hoping to honour their cancer-striken grandmother, Kayak for a Cure will enjoy it’s first running in Whitehorse thanks to organizers Judy Ratcliffe, Tracy Pittman and Geana Hadley.

Ratcliffe, a teacher at Takhini Elementary School, got the idea after the tragic cancer deaths of two of her colleagues in late summer of last year. Grieving the too-soon passings of her friends, Radcliffe knew she could not sit idly by. while cancer claimed the lives of so many around her.

“I saw a clip on Kayak for the Cure on Global TV right after the funerals of these two colleagues of mine,” says Ratcliffe, who took up kayaking three years ago. “I knew I needed to do something. At the same time, the Terry Fox Run was happening, and I thought about Terry Fox, who is my personal Canadian hero, and I was really reminded that one person can make a difference.”

Combining her kayaking enthusiasm with her urgent desire to help fight cancer, Radcliffe contacted KFAC organizers in Vancouver, and enlisted the help of Pittman and Hadley, as well as Up North Adventures, who agreed to provide kayak rentals and transportation for participating kayakers.

The fundraising strategy for Kayak for a Cure is simple: participants who sign up commit to raising at least $300 each for the Canadian Cancer Society, recruiting their friends, family, coworkers and fellow community members to pledge donations. Having hopefully met or exceeded that goal, they take to the waters for a serene paddle in honour of loved ones who have been affected by cancer.

“We had hoped to get 20 people registered for our first run, with the aim of raising $10,000, but so far we have just eight people participating. I was a bit disappointed. I think maybe people thought they couldn’t raise $300, but it hasn’t been that difficult. One of the women who signed up was convinced she couldn’t raise that amount, but she’s already managed to raise $800.”

For Ratcliffe’s part, she’s already raised $2,500 worth of pledges, and estimates the total amount on pledges for Kayak for a Cure Yukon is somewhere around $6,000.

“The first thing I did was send an e-mail to my school reunion group,” says Ratcliffe on her secret to fundraising success. “We had two people in my class, people I went to school with right from Grade One, who have recently passed away from cancer, and so I think people were really open to the idea of donating money. I’ve also received a lot of support from the school. We have a woman here now who is going through a battle with cancer, so people are donating as much for her as they are for me.”

Participants will wear bibs inscribed with the names of friends and family stricken by cancer. Ratcliffe’s bib will bear the names of her colleagues, Ed, Richard, and Suzanne, and her former classmates, Pauline and Garth. The 50-something teacher was moved by how prevalent the disease was among people she knew, especially as they were her own age.

“It really gets you thinking about your own mortality,” says Ratcliffe, who bravely shaved her head at her school in an effort to drum up pledges. “My grandmother used to say, ”There but for the grace of God go I’, and that is a quote that I have taken on for myself.”

While the KFAC Yukon paddlers haven’t quite met their $10,000 goal, Ratcliffe is still very proud of what the small group has accomplished in such a short time. She’s quick to note that the Relay for Life organization in Whitehorse, as well as KFAC organizers in Vancouver, have been instrumental in helping make the event possible, and notes that she’ll take what she’s learned about fundraising and apply it to making next year’s Kayak for a Cure Yukon even more successful.

“I think we may move the event to later in the year, perhaps August, because there are a lot of charity events that in the Yukon around this time of year, and we don’t want to be in a position where we feel like we’re bothering people for donations when they’ve already given to other causes.”

For this year, however, Ratcliffe and the seven other paddlers are eager to get in the water. The group will put their kayaks in at Rotary Park at 1 p.m. on Sunday, and head upriver for 2 1/2 hours, before returning to town for a barbecue at Robert Service Campground, starting at 4p.m.

“I think it’s quite fitting. There’s something spiritual and calm about being out on the water in a kayak. Being out there is a great way to honour people who have battled cancer.”

To help this group get closer to their $10,00 goal, visit www.kayakforacure.org/yukon, or call 633-4810.