Heroic Cancer Fighters Paddle from Catalina to Newport in a 32-mile relay fundraiser race

They may have cancer, but they’re not giving up without a fight – and these determined cancer fighters are also raising money to help others suffering from the disease.

The Newport Aquatic Center’s Team We Are Ocean (cancer fighters in-active treatment and in remission) partnered with Team OpenWater (First Responders, Active-Duty Military and Veterans) to conquer the Puakea Designs “Wild Buffalo Relay” a 32-Mile Paddle Race from Catalina Island to the Newport Aquatic Center (NAC) in Newport Beach on April 2, 2023.

Each team of six paddled for 30 minutes and then took a break of 60 minutes before they got back into the boat, where they were escorted from Catalina by an escort craft with all of the team members, and they swapped out the paddlers mid-ocean every 30 minutes. Medical support and equipment were onboard for those paddlers needing help if required.

Initially, the group intended to raise $27k, but they surpassed that, hitting $40K as of Friday morning for fundraising. Naturally, they were “thrilled”.

The idea was the brainchild of Jack Marshall Shimko, the Founder and Program Director of the NAC / We Are Ocean Cancer Program. He hatched this idea back in January when he found out that the Wild Buffalo Relay named NAC / We Are Ocean is the official beneficiary of the race. Shimko saw an opportunity to get involved and enter a team of cancer fighters into the race. He wanted to show with action that “we (cancer fighters) will no longer sit on the sidelines – we will fight cancer as we adventure and conquer active ocean-based challenges together as a team.”

Those who were involved in the event found it empowering.

“I’m doing the Puakea Designs Wild Buffalo Relay because I’m done letting cancer sideline me, and I’m ready to get back out there,” states Jack Marshall Shimko, Founder and Program Director of the Newport Aquatic Center’s Team We Are Ocean”. Adding: “I’m a lifelong endurance athlete, ocean enthusiast and two-time cancer fighter. Originally diagnosed at 29 with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and after 13 years of living cancer-free, I was diagnosed in August of 2022 with chronic lymphocytic leukemia. I just completed 12 more rounds of cancer treatment and am waiting to hear what the next steps of my treatment plan will be. I’m in medically uncharted waters – that’s why this paddle feels so important to me. A way to show cancer I’m done sitting on the sidelines and ready to get out there!”

“All of us at OpenWater are so grateful for the opportunity to share this experience with the NAC and Team We are Ocean. While every one of us is on a different journey, the Wild Buffalo channel crossing provides fellowship, a powerful intersection point for us to come together and to surrender to the healing powers of the ocean,” states Danny Nichols, co-founder of OpenWater.

Jack Shimko – Program director

While Alex Prabhu said: “I am doing the Wild Buffalo Relay because I will not let breast cancer keep me from living my life. I was diagnosed in February 2022 with stage 3 breast cancer at 36 years old. I have been in active treatment since last March – first a clinical trial at UCLA with an experimental drug, then major reconstructive surgery to remove the tumour and 31 of my lymph nodes, and now finishing six additional rounds of chemo. When we paddle the Wild Buffalo Relay, I will have just completed three out of five weeks of radiation. I want to show other cancer survivors that anything is possible, and I want my kids to see their mom can persevere through even the toughest challenges. Paddling these 32 miles with other cancer survivors and giving back to the community that has given me so much.”

The Kennedy/Marshall Company is proud to sponsor the We Are Ocean Team in the “Wild Buffalo Relay”. K/M fully supports cancer research to advance scientific knowledge and help all people live longer and healthier lives. “At Kennedy/Marshall, we believe in the healing power of the ocean,” said Frank Marshall, CEO of the Kennedy/ Marshall Company.

Kathleen Kennedy is his wife and will be Disney’s new CEO once Iger finally retires.

OpenWater’s mission is to support the health and wellness of every First Responder and Veteran through unique training programs, fellowship, and open water experiences.


In today’s world, it’s all too easy to feel alone amid our battles, but this is especially true for those fighting for their lives against an opponent like cancer. NAC / We Are Ocean participants report that the relationships and activities they discover at camp become critically important to their sense of self in their post-cancer lives. The sense of meaning and purpose that remains can also be found through the act of giving. Whether directly or through the experiences of a loved one, nobody has a choice in whether they’re affected by cancer. It touches each and every one of us.

But there is hope – something that NAC / We Are Ocean Cancer Program provides.

They recently made a feature documentary on Apple called Between Two Harbours, which provides an insightful look into the healing powers of the ocean. You can view the documentary by clicking here:


NAC / We Are Ocean Cancer Program is intent on continuing its vital work of supporting and empowering teens and young adults affected by cancer. Donations directly support adventure programs for cancer fighter survivors, bringing strength, joy, and peer support to the cancer fight.

To make a donation to these brave men and women, click HERE.



Article by melissa

Melissa Myers is a trained journalist working in London and New York. She worked for national newspapers in the U.K. as a celebrity journalist and was the News Director of In Touch magazine in the U.S. In 2017, she focused on making a difference in the world and launched her website kindnessandhope.org. Melissa also builds websites for various clientele and runs social media campaigns for non-profits.