DELRAY BEACH — John Davidson returned home Wednesday from an exhausting, but rewarding paddle boarding excursion.
He paddled the width of Florida from Stuart to Sanibel Island on the west coast, about 150 miles, in just six days to raise money and awareness for Stand Down House, a Lake Worth nonprofit that offers meals, lodging and programs to homeless veterans.
“It takes a toll on you physically,” said Davidson, a retired Marine. “But emotionally, spiritually, it feels terrific to do what we set out to do.”
Davidson, 53, started his journey in Stuart and paddled the Okeechobee Waterway, which starts at the St. Lucie Inlet and includes the St. Lucie River, the St. Lucie Canal, Lake Okeechobee and the Caloosahatchee River. People donated to the cause to support his efforts. Before his journey began, at least $20,000 had been collected for Stand Down House, he said.
“We were fortunate that some friends, foundations and local businesses really stepped up,” Davidson said. “That was well beyond my expectations.”
Davidson was joined by Dennis Callahan, a 75-year-old Vietnam veteran, and Chris Patrona, 32, both of Boynton Beach, who followed Davidson in Patrona’s boat and occasionally paddled alongside him. During the journey, Davidson took a break every hour and a half and drank three liters of water between breaks to avoid dehydration.
An “avid distance paddler,” Davidson had never accomplished such a feat before this.
He got the idea after paddling more than 40 miles one day on a whim. He decided he could paddle even longer distances, but wanted to make the journey matter, he said.
“As long as I’m doing this, I want some good to come out of it,” he said. A veteran himself, Stand Down House was a natural fit to benefit from the journey.
Said Davidson: “I had the faces of these homeless veterans on my mind as I was paddling.”