Kayaking the Mississippi River For a Cause

Posted at: 09/25/2013 11:11 PM
Updated at: 09/26/2013 12:46 AM
By: Dan Williamson

This week's "Up North" could also be called "Down South." The summer of 2013 is officially over and for a young man from Minnesota, almost half of it was spent with a straight shaft paddle and some pedals on one of the longest rivers in the world. Months after conquering cancer, with a kayak, Brock Wood conquered the 'Mighty Mississippi,' going through the Northland down to New Orleans.

Wood traveled over 2,000 miles, through and along ten states. But, the journey of the Alexandria native began before he put his kayak in the headwaters at Lake Itasca and paddled the Mississippi River.

"My dad and I and my uncle and my cousin honestly thought I was going to die right there on the mountain," says Wood.

Last fall, Brock went on an elk hunting trip in Colorado and discovered something was wrong.

"I had an attack and collapsed. The whole left side of my body went completely numb. I thought I was having a heart attack," says Wood.

After a slow hike off the mountain, which took hours, Brock was taken to a hospital. Later, doctors diagnosed him with Hodgkin's Lymphoma, which is a cancer that affects the lymph nodes. Brock was just 18, the youngest of five kids.

"It is still pretty surreal, that my son had cancer. When I think about that, I still can't believe it," says Juanita Wood, Brock's mother.

Brock needed about four months of chemotherapy and radiation at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester.

"Brock was strong, he was very strong. He was very positive through it all. My husband (Dan Wood) and I were there to support him and for every single treatment. Lots of family, lots of friends.

Then, victory came for Brock.

"I was actually cured on March 29th of Hodgkin's Lymphoma and I beat cancer," Brock said.

This life journey rekindled the dream of another journey for Brock. Before his illness, he had talked about taming the 'Mighty Mississippi.' A sponsor had even been willing to help pay for that trip if there was a purpose. Brock had a kayak, but he needed a cause.

"I went through the entire treatments and all of that and so, now that is the joke that we found out my purpose, to raise money for lymphoma research," says Wood.

"It is what kept him going through all of his treatments. He talked about it everyday," says Juanita Wood, Brock's mother.

Donations to fight Hodgkin's could be made at a website he launched called 'Paddle 4 Kins.' In the middle of June, Brock and his friend Jesse Hacker launched their kayaks at the Mississippi River headwaters at Lake Itasca. Eyewitness Sports caught up with them days later in Grand Rapids.

Related:  Up North, Paddle 4 Kins

"(The trip will take) 60 days. Going from June 17th to the third week in August," said Wood.

An injury forced Hacker to pull out of the trip, but Brock paddled on, with friends and family joining him for parts of it. His brother Stuart was with when they reached the Quad Cities in early July.

"I watched him battle through cancer for four or five months and it was pretty tough to see my little brother, the strongest guy I know, just get beat up by cancer and then come out here, after he gets done and take on the "Mighty Mississippi.' It shows the character that he has got, he doesn't give up," says Stuart Wood, Brock's brother.

Camping at night, kayaking by day and with the help of camera, his website and social media; Brock kept everyone updated. His sister, Kendra Hartsell, maintained the Paddle 4 Kins website and blog.

He paddled through equipment issues and through fatigue.

"All you see is trees. You continue to see trees and trees and trees. People are like, 'Oh you'll see towns once you get past St. Louis.' No, there are levees instead of locks and the levees are 100 yards off the river and the towns are behind it," says Wood.

The trip that got its start so unexpectedly, ironically ended sooner than expected. Brock arrived to New Orleans on July 25th, 20 days sooner than he had predicted.

Cancer to kayaking, it was the journey of his life and it lead to a journey that may have saved his life and a journey he hopes saves other lives.

"It means the world to me, it really does. But, seeing other people with the same type of cancer, it is tough and that is why I am doing this. To get some more research and help others," says Wood.

Wood raised about 20-thousand dollars for lymphoma research. Next Thursday, he goes in for the second of four scans that he has to have in the first year after recovery. Brock is now 19 years old and is currently a student at the University of Minnesota-Crookston.

For more on Brock's journey or to donate to Hodgkin's Lymphoma research, click here.

A interesting tidbit about Brock, he played high school hockey and was chosen as a member of the online '2011 All Hockey Hair Team.' He is featured at about the 1:00 mark into the video. Click here to watch.