Cold starts, warm hearts.
Troy Nebeker exudes this sentiment as he sits in his rig, paddle board strapped to the top, big smile, with eyes that recognize joy because they have seen pain.
As a Pacific Northwest waterman, pain and discomfort are on a sliding scale for Troy. Frigid, black water may sting, but Troy and his family have experienced a different pain, a pain much more unforgiving.
In 2013, Troy’s wife, Angie, was diagnosed with breast cancer and lymphoma. Her cancer is in remission now, but through the battle Troy and Angie made choices that will drive the rest of their lives. During the trying times, Troy says his wife’s strength and courage stayed him and inspired him to live with intentionality.
Anyone who’s been ill or injured knows the feeling of sitting in bed while the mind spins over modest tasks it wishes the body could accomplish. At times, these physical limitations can be all-consuming. While injured or ill it’s common to think, “I wish I could just go outside and take a walk.” Simple activities become so special.
When a life-threatening disease infiltrates a healthy body, freedom of movement and physical agency become priceless gifts, all the more so because they often sit just out of reach.
Watching Troy paddle begs the questions: Why is he in the Puget Sound at 6am in the middle of winter? What is that Monster and Sea graphic on his chest? The 24 on his back? What does #gobecauseyoucan mean? Does discomfort deter desire?
Troy paddles every morning. Because he’s healthy. Because he can.
“Go, because you can” is Troy’s mantra, his mentality, posture, and commandment. It is also a rebuke, a criticism of complacency, a warning against regret. It is a mantra that has inspired thousands, one that companies have tried to appropriate, one that Troy holds sacred.
As a hashtag, the phrase spreads across social media; it is familiar but also begs a question.
As the founder of Monster & Sea, a grassroots apparel brand that contributes proceeds to families fighting cancer, Troy aims to inspire interest. He wants his logo, his hashtag, his race events, to pique enough interest, to be recognizable enough that further query is required.
Does cancer or disease seem reasonable? Can you fight unreason with greater unreason?
These questions become essential when considering how long you, your spouse, child, sibling, parent, friend have to live. These immediate questions sometimes carry answers that seem unacceptable.
Is giving away profits a sound business model? Troy would argue that there are greater profits at stake here.
Troy organizes an annual 24 hour paddling event, called simply, The 24. This year’s 24 had 22 teams of 6, paddling on waters all over the country and rallying countless supporters to participate through keeping company, providing meals, offering buildings to sleep in throughout the night, donating equipment and money, cheerleading and getting out to paddle alongside the athletes.
Each team set their own target for fundraising, and collectively they raised $141,500. This is just the third year of the event. Troy has seen exponential growth since the first event in Seattle. Talk on the banks now revolves around how many cities and teams will participate next year, as the trend in participation spiked for 2017.
After watching the camaraderie and grit this community exudes, it will be no surprise when we see this heartfelt, grassroots action of care and provision explode.
When Troy, and all of the paddle teams around the country participating in The 24, finish spending an entire day on the water they deliver envelopes of fun-raised cash to families experiencing the pain and discomfort of disease.
Some families are surprised, grateful, embarrassed. Some aren’t ready to accept the gift. It would mean acknowledging their need, acknowledging the reality of their circumstances.
Troy knows all these feelings. He’s been there. And now he has decided to inspire communities to help. To paddle. To encourage. To go. Because you can.