At the stroke of midnight on Tuesday, Clayton firefighters Allen Williford and Paul Zias put two slender kayaks into the Neuse River in Raleigh to start a wild journey helping to raise money for fallen heroes. They started out with a crew of friends, but already the challenging trek has forced several to drop out. In five days, Allen and Paul hope to land on the shores of downtown New Bern.
Wearing helmets with tiny lights, the two firefighters are navigating the river night and day, sleeping in their plastic boats, but meeting lots of great folks and fellow firefighters along the way (not to mention the beavers and snakes!). Their Paddling for Pennies mission is to support “Firefighters Assisting Armed Forces Families” who’s president is a retired Raleigh Firefighter and the “My US Veteran Corp,” a non-profit organization in Cart, but they have also adopted two military families – one is volunteer firefighter Ian McClanahan who was wounded in a military training accident and has undergone 140 surgeries at Walter Reed. The other is US Marine Ryan Wightman and his wife Melissa of Fuquay-Varina who lost his leg to an IED while trying to help a fallen Marine.
“We will have numb legs, aching shoulders, arms and backs,” admits Allen, who survived this same mission once before with Paul in 2013. “We will have lost some weight from paddling so much and so hard. We will be as tired as we’ve ever been before. Our emotional, physical and our psychological sides will be tested like never before. I’ve said it before but this journey we put ourselves through was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. But, in the middle of it, when we look at each other and question why we’re doing this –we realize the reason we are here is not to see how much we can push and hurt but to remember how awesome we do have it. We are doing this out of respect, honor, and remembrance of those fellow firemen and soldiers who said I’ll do whatever it takes to keep us free and safe. We thank the men and women who have had their lives changed in many shapes or forms to give us this opportunity to honor them. We hope people will help us help those who have given whatever it took.”