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A 6,100 journey of hope

A 6,100 journey of hope

Kayakers circumnavigating the Great Lakes to fund cancer research

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Meet the members of 2 Paddling 5: Joe Zellner and Peggy Gabrielson.

If the weather and Lake Michigan waves cooperate, they’ll leave Illinois Beach State Park just south of the Wisconsin border about 7 or 8 a.m. today to paddle sea kayaks — their “boats” — north along the Pleasant Prairie, Kenosha and Somers shorelines.

They not only will be enroute to their next overnight stop in Racine, but 25 miles closer, give or take, to the Wisconsin natives’ 6,100-mile goal to circumnavigate the five Great Lakes, all to raise funds in support of pediatric brain cancer research.

About 10 years ago, Zellner, 59, a professional carpenter, 30-year kayaker — including 25 as a racer — met the parents of Callie Rohr, who was felled by brain cancer five days shy of her 10th birthday. The occasion of his meeting with the Rohrs was a fundraising race in Callie’s memory.

Two years ago, Zellner hooked Gabrielson into his passion for kayaking. Each are parents of adult children, and both are grandparents as well.

Continue north todayAfter Lake Michigan waves washed out the plans 2 Paddling 5 had to get back on the water Thursday morning and continue north, their friends, Brooke and John Gabris, avid kayakers themselves, invited Zellner and Gabrielson for a bonfire and cookout at the Gabris’ “little kayak house” in Pleasant Prairie.

There, the earnest paddlers, who began their ambitious sea excursion April 1, talked about their motivation, their goals and what keeps them going, supported by their 2-year-old miniature schnauzer, Izzy, and their ground support crew, Joe’s sister, Cathy Franks, and Walt Kutzavich.

So far, they’ve paddled 650-700 miles, and they hope to complete their daunting task following the U.S and Canadian coasts by November.

For cancer researchAfter stopping Monday to tour the cancer facility at Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago, Gabrielson said her emotions prevented her from speaking.

“You open your mouth, and you can’t even talk,” Gabrielson said. “This money that we’re raising goes to Lurie’s and specifically to pediatric brain cancer research. We don’t see any of the money donated. It goes directly to Lurie’s. I was blessed with healthy children and grandchildren. I can’t imagine anything worse than losing one of your children.”

Said Zellner: “I thought, well, if I don’t do this now, I don’t know if I’ll be able to do it anymore. Nobody’s paying me for a vacation. So, I thought, ‘Let’s put our money into this.’ If we can do this to raise money for this, hopefully we give them a chance.”

You can cheer them on in person when they paddle by the Kenosha lakefront tomorrow morning.

To donate and track their progress, go to their website at and follow them on Facebook at 2 Paddling 5.


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