Riding the Waves for a Cause

Four SJU Grads go to Extremes to Support Autism

Thursday, June 11, 2009

PHILADELPHIA (June 8, 2009) — Passion for a cause can inspire people to do amazing things. For some, it’s walking 60 miles over three days for breast cancer. For others, it’s making lemonade to fund childhood cancer research.  For four recent Saint Joseph’s graduates working together with students from other area colleges, the cause is autism and the amazing thing is planning and completing a 1,500-mile row up the Atlantic coast from Miami, Fla., to Sea Isle City, N.J.

If it sounds like an extreme endeavor, that’s because it is.  Equipped with 17’ Van Duyne surf boats donated by McCann Realty in Sea Isle City, the four rowers will set out on June 13 for a journey that they estimate will take 50 days.  Planning began months ago and continues for this venture billed “Rock the Boat for Autism.”

All together, nine students have teamed up for this initiative, four who will row and five others who are helping on the administrative side, handling finances, communications and logistics. Three of the four rowers are SJU students: Larry Maher (pharmaceutical marketing), James O’Donoghue (finance) and Dan McCann (economics). Kendal Smith, was an SJU interdisciplinary health services major, and is handling the graphic design for promotional materials.

Rock the Boat hopes to raise $250,000.

“The amount of money raised is the material measure of our organization’s accomplishments,” said Smith, who has a family member with autism and became more involved in the cause after taking an Introduction to Autism course at SJU. “However, showing support for families (literally) across the nation is something powerful that cannot be measured in dollars.”

As unlikely as the charitable effort may seem, it has already taken on a huge following. Thanks to the social networking tool Facebook, hundreds have learned of the row from all across the country and have pledged their support.

“I am not worried about succeeding. My history in rowing, which includes fours years at Chaminade High School (Mineola, N.Y.) and a Dad Vail gold medal, has taught me how to endure,” says O’Donoghue, who has arranged to take off from his first post-graduation job as a financial planner with ING for the row. “We have received many e-mails and stories from families around the country who are supporting us. I have complete faith in my rowing partners to never give up, and never let me give up.”

Preparing to row a 400-pound boat approximately 40 miles a day for 50 straight days requires much advance training. The rowers have been exercising daily, mixing cardio workouts with time on a rowing machine.

“We were all smiles about seven months ago when the project first started,” admitted Maher. “As the days begin to count down, the smiles are being replaced by more seriousness. I keep telling myself that if we can educate one person about autism, we are successful. The row is a secondary feature to our actual cause.”

The idea for the row came from the desire to recreate a row that was attempted in 1989 by a group of Wildwood, N.J. lifeguards to benefit diabetes. One of those ’89 rowers was McCann’s cousin, who has the disease. McCann credits his cousin’s advice for getting him through his doubts about the challenges of the row and the realities that come with it, like sleeping on beaches in tents night after night.

“Knowing that the money we bring in is going to help children and families is all the motivation I need,” McCann added. “The most challenging part has been raising the actual money itself. During these hard economic times it’s an added challenge, but as a team we are staying optimistic, knowing that in the end it will work out.”

A landing party is scheduled for August 1 at Sea Isle’s La Costa Lounge, which will donate $1,500 at the time of landing and host a celebration, complete with open bar and buffet. The cost for guests will be $15, all of which go to support the cause.

To learn more about Rock the Boat for Autism or to donate, visit www.rocktheboatforautism.org, e-mail rocktheboatforautism@gmail.com, or call 609-335-2538.

Media Contact

Kelly Welsh, Senior Associate Director of University Communications, 610-660-1385, kwelsh@sju.edu

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