When Brian Appel pulled his canoe out of the water at the Canoe for Kids race in Massapequa on Saturday, he knew firsthand that he had helped someone.
When he was 8 years old, Appel was diagnosed with Burkitt’s lymphoma stage four and was once a benefactor of the annual race, which is organized by the Massapequa Fire Department. Each year since he has given back by taking part.
“I come back every year. I try to tell as many people I can to come,” the 23-year-old Massapequa resident said. “It’s amazing what a lot of people do here. I like to give back [and] give the families the same thing that I had.”
On Saturday, the 16th annual race was held at John J. Burns Park, benefiting the Plainview-based Genesis School for autism, along with J.T. Meredith, a 19-year-old Woodbury resident who was hit by a car in 2007 and is confined to a wheelchair.
Massapequa Fire Department volunteers Tom McCarthy and Pat Byrne have organized the event from the start. What began with 18 two-person teams has grown -- 100 teams competed this year.
McCarthy and Byrne said they have raised more than $100,000 since the charity event started, and they hope to bring in $50,000 this year through entry fees, raffles and food sales.
First-time racer Alesa Paretti of Woodbury hoped to do her part for the cause.
“We’re gonna canoe and kick butt,” said Paretti, a first-time racer. “I think anything that’s going to raise money for other people who need it is a great thing to do.”
When Appel was diagnosed, he was told his chances of survival were only 20 percent, and that if he did, he would be a paraplegic. Now fully recovered, he enjoys helping others a lot more than being helped.
“It’s a little embarrassing,” he said about being a benefactor of a charity. “All eyes are on you, you’re a sick kid [and] you kind of get singled out to begin with. But you get singled out in a good way and everybody’s there to support you.”
Appel finished his race in 23 minutes, but setting a personal best is not why he continues to show up.
“We try to introduce ourselves to the families [being helped],” he said of himself and his relatives, “to tell them, ‘This is what [the] money goes towards, and it is possible to make a full recovery.’”
Photos: Hundreds of people participated in this year's Canoe for Kids race in Massapequa, an annual event to benefit children with illnesses. (August 13, 2011)