Wrightsville Beach junior paddlers dedicating last race of the season to cancer-stricken peer

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Wrightsville Beach Junior Elite Team member Jenna Blackburn, #412, and Kira Buchanan, #192. Photo courtesy of Erin Carter.

They’ve spent a summer paddle boarding with their friends, and now the Wrightsville Beach Junior Elite Team, known as the WB JETs, is preparing for their last race of the season, the Surf to Sound Challenge presented by the Wrightsville Beach Paddle Club.

Aside from it being a “home” race and the only one the team’s members are required to paddle in (participation in all the other races, which take place around the region, is voluntary, according to “paddle mom” Erin Carter), the event has an even bigger meaning for the JETs.

A fellow junior paddler, Kira Buchanan, whom the team met during the Carolina Cup in April, was recently diagnosed with cancer. Though she lives across the country in Washington state, Kira grew close to the JETs and trained with them while here last spring.

“Usually when we see other junior paddlers, we take them in because there’s not that many of them,” said Carter. “She was a part of the team, as far as we were concerned. She’s a really sweet girl.”

According to Carter, Kira was diagnosed with a treatable form of lymphoma on Friday the 13th of this month, and is currently undergoing treatment. The WB JETs members, who range in age from eight to 15 years old, had lots of difficult questions for Carter and the other parents and coaches.

“They asked things like, ‘Will she get better?’ and ‘Can I get it, too?’” Carter said, noting that a cancer diagnosis is something that can be hard for young people to comprehend. “You just don’t expect something like this for someone so young, but we’re trying to take the most positive way to look at it.”

This attitude manifested itself in the form of a call to action.

“The biggest question the kids had was, ‘What can we do?’” Carter said. “They decided as a team that they would paddle with all their strength and dedicate their [Surf to Sound] race to Kira.”

The event, which includes races of different lengths and skill levels, will be held the first weekend of November and includes routes around Wrightsville Beach that the JETs often paddle during their twice-weekly practices. Carter said Kira and her family are aware the JETs will be dedicating their race to her, and the team is aiming to send videos from both before and after the race to Kira.

“We want to encourage her as much as we can, and we hope she’ll be able to make it back here next year,” said Carter.

As for the race itself, Carter said the core group of 10 committed paddlers has been working hard to finish the season strong.

“This is the only race that we require them to do because we feel it’s important to represent the community and show people that we’re here,” Carter said, adding that the dedication of the race to Kira is an extension of the team’s mission to be positive members of the community. “We feel it’s important for kids to get involved and do good things for others because it needs to be important to everybody. We all need to help each other however we can.”

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