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Cancer survivor paddles circumference of Lake Lanier
Chestatee teacher's shoreline tour raises $3,000 for Relay for Life
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Dana Richardson begins the last portion of her paddle around Lake Lanier on Saturday at Don Carter State Park. Richardson is a pancreatic cancer survivor who decided to kayak the 695-mile shoreline of Lake Lanier in order to raise money for Relay for Life. - photo by Erin O. Smith

Paddling the circumference of Lake Lanier — roughly 350 accessible miles in total — Dana Richardson has seen a lot of water and a lot of parks.

“It’s been interesting,” said Richardson, gearing up Saturday at Don Carter State Park for the final 6-mile leg of her journey. “I know every park on Lake Lanier now. Some of them are nice, some of them very remote, and some are just boat ramps, basically.”

The sightseeing though was merely icing on the cake. A pancreatic cancer survivor, Richardson began paddling back in April as a means to raise money for Relay for Life.

As of Saturday, as she and fellow paddlers wrapped up the incremental aquatic voyage, the Relay team had raised nearly $3,000.

Why paddling?

“I can’t run,” said Richardson, an English teacher at Chestatee High School. “And, I couldn’t make it to Relay because I had a race that weekend. I figured this was something I could do and I thought it was a unique way to raise awareness and money. Since we started, we’ve had multiple cancer survivors get involved.”

Among those involved in these weekly aquatic voyages is fellow Chestatee teacher Mike Herrin.

“She got me into the sport, and I’m also a cancer survivor,” Herrin said. “This has been a pretty tight knit ground of friends and supporters.”

Supporter Deborah Cohen was out on the shore Saturday cheering on the group.

“Dana is an inspiration,” Cohen said. “She’s a great person and a great friend. We support her all the way.”

Richardson was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2004. She had a massive operation at Emory that year and was cancer free for six years before they found tumors in her liver. She had four tumors over several years develop on her liver until her doctor decided to remove about 60 percent of the organ.

For Richardson, paddling has been an incentive to get better, and she said it was a natural connection when she decided to do it to fund cancer research.

The initial paddling estimates of nearly 700 miles, Richardson said, weren’t accurate because the number included all the miles of island shoreline as well as many parts of Lanier that weren’t accessible by kayak.

The final total of 350 miles is the lake’s circumference that was navigable, she said.

“It’s been a great journey,” Richardson said. “We’re glad that we were able to do this.”

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