Paddling For Josh 
By: Steve Leppard and Brandon Gerardy 

"What is tough? Competing in a 5k? A local Tough Mudder? Running a mara-thon? Triathlon competition? Maybe. How about finishing the AuSable River Canoe Marathon? No question. How many races cover 120 miles, take 14-19 hours to complete, and run overnight? Only one. The Peak 100 recognizes the Au Sable River Canoe Marathon as one of the 100 toughest races in the world. 

Now, how about living your life with cerebral palsy and overcoming obstacles? Is that tough? How about attending college in a power wheelchair with limited resources… how tough would that be? You know that feeling when you can’t wait to get out on Mio and get your legs moving again… now imagine that feeling every day of your life.

Paddling For Josh and the Au Sable River Canoe Marathon... an ultra-marathon that allows us to do a fundraiser for a young man in need. We race the Marathon not only for the personal challenge and competition, but also to raise money for Josh LeJarett. Josh is now a 23 year old patient who we have treated in our Kalamazoo physical therapy clinic for eleven years for a diagnosis of cerebral palsy. Josh is wheelchair bound having only voluntary control of his left upper extremity. He is able to drive his wheelchair with a left hand joystick, but is unable to transfer, dress, and shower inde-pendently. 

After excelling in mathematics and computers in high school, Josh has begun attending Kalamazoo Valley Com-munity College to pursue a degree in com-puter programming. Aside from the typical challenges of paying for tuition, living expenses, and textbooks, Josh requires caregiver assistance 16 hrs/day. As we were training for the 2008 Marathon, we decided to start this fundraiser to help re-move the financial hurdle of attending college. 

Now, from three previous Mara-thons (2008, 2010, 2012), Paddling For Josh has raised over $5,000 by accepting donations for each mile we paddle. This has allowed us to pay for 100% of the cost of Josh’s first thirteen college classes at KVCC (3.75 GPA). Josh is now early in sophomore standing, but with continued work we hope to pay for his entire associ-ate’s degree in computer programming. Pay 100% of the cost of an associate’s degree with canoe racing?!? We hope to add to this fund this year and continue to make college a reality for Josh. 

As training is under way for this year’s Marathon, one can't help but stop and think about all of the positive things that pad-dling the marathon adds to the lives of those who take part in the experience. From the sense of team that brings us all together in an attempt to achieve a com-mon goal on the Au Sable each July, to raising money for the Paddling for Josh campaign, to a steadfast belief that after finishing the Marathon that there will be NO challenge in the next year that can not be overcome. After racing the Marathon, it is hard not to go into every situation in life with more confidence. 

Another positive experience resulting from the Marathon… after the Marathon in 2008, Rotary Interna-tional heard of Paddling For Josh. This led to the selection of Steve Leppard to represent District 6360, the State of Michi-gan, and the healthcare profession on a Group Study Exchange (GSE) to Buenos Aires Argentina. Steve and the Michigan Rotary team traveled to Argentina to live for thirty days and practice physical thera-py. 

Who could believe that racing the Au Sable River Canoe Marathon could both pay for 100% of the cost of an associate degree and lead to Rotary selection to trav-el to Argentina as an ambassador for Mich-igan healthcare? We have said numerous times that it feels like we get more out of the Marathon than the race itself because we are racing for something greater than ourselves. 

From 'No Limits, No Boundaries' by Josh: "People might say that there are a lot of walls in front of me and ceilings above me. That because of my limits I have no chance to succeed... but to me those walls and ceilings are really hurdles for me to jump over high into the sky. There are no limits to my potential nor boundaries that I can-not cross only those that I put onto my-self.”

We hope to add to the Paddling for Josh fund this year and continue to make col-lege a reality for Josh. If you know some-one overcoming the challenges of cerebral palsy, if you are a fan of the Marathon, or if you race the Marathon... visit our Facebook page and message us at > < to ask how you can donate to Paddling For Josh. Please support the world class Au Sable River Canoe Marathon and the Paddling For Josh fundraiser. Marathon tough."

Since 1947, One of the Greatest Canoe Races on Earth!
2014 AuSable River Canoe Marathon * July 22-27, 2014

Presented by Michigan Army National Guard Recruiting & Retention Battalion and Consumers Energy.

In just one week, two of our esteemed colleagues, Brandon Gerardy and Steve Leppard, along with the members of Team Solstice, including our own PT, Adam Fujita, will demonstrate their unparalleled determination to do something bigger than any one of them could complete alone.  Together they will participate in the 67th annual AuSable River Canoe Marathon.

This years race on July 26th and 27th will mark the fourth entry for the "Paddling for Josh" team to complete the marathon to raise money for the education and daily caregiving assistance for a young man in need.  Josh LeJarett is a 23 year old student at Kalamazoo Valley Community College studying computer programming.  Josh also has Cerebral Palsy, is wheelchair bound, and only has voluntary use of his left arm.  He is able to drive his power wheelchair with a left handed joystick, but is unable to dress, transfer, or shower independently.  He requires 16hrs/day of caregiver assistance.  Paddling for Josh has been providing this assistance through fundraising since 2008 and has completed the AuSable Canoe Marathon in three previous entries (2008, 2010, and 2012).  SIMIO Physical Therapy has been a proud supporter of Paddling for Josh since 2010.

I have unique reasons for supporting the efforts of Team Solstice in their adventure to fund Paddling for Josh.  Tonya and I have attended the start of many AuSable Marathons prior to our awareness of Team Solstice.  We annually travel to Grayling on the last weekend in July to camp at one of our favorite State Parks, Hartwick Pines, and find crowded space on (or near) the steep lawn that serves as the spectator area for the launch of the marathon.  We have a respect for the rigor of what is about to take place for the paddlers as they all run down the hill with canoes in hand to find their place in a narrow bend in the river shortly after 9pm. 

For us, there may be a drive back to camp, or more recently, we have battled the traffic out of town toward one of the first bridge passing points at Burton's landing, or Stephan bridge, where spectators and team members crowd again to rally and support the racers.  Nonetheless, we find ourselves back at camp for a good nights rest.  We wake the following morning, eat breakfast, and continue normal camp life as we know it.  

Meanwhile...back on the river, our friends in the Paddling for Josh canoe have not rested, they have been paddling through the night averaging 50-80 paddle strokes per minute for 14-19 consecutive hours.  They have a team of friends following them from Grayling to Oscoda to support their food, hydration, and equipment needs. The team members train tirelessly through the year to prepare their bodies and plan for the needs of the upcoming race.  Many have invested personal dollars and hours in racing canoes and training equipment to condition for this and future marathons.  The generosity, selflessness, integrity, and compassion these individuals demonstrate is difficult to illustrate with words.

These friends have made a commitment to set goals, work together, carry one another, and accomplish things that no one person could do alone, but for one individual, Josh LeJarett.

SIMIO Physical Therapy has set up an online donation portal for Paddling for Josh through our website.  If you would like to contribute, please CLICK HERE.  Thank you.