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Chestatee teacher plans to travel entire shoreline of Lake Lanier over several months
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Leslie Brass, Mitch Cohen, Lindsey O’Shea, Morgan House, Joe Vinson, Dana Richardson, John Mitchell, Mike Herrin and Kevan Richardson gather their canoes Wednesday at the end of Richardson’s first day on Lake Lanier as part of her goal to paddle the lake’s entire shoreline. The group of nine traveled from Don Carter State Park to the Lake Lanier Olympic Venue. - photo by Erin O. Smith

Dana Richardson’s Paddle Lanier
What: Relay for Life fundraiser
How to help:
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Richardson, a teacher at Chestatee High School, will spend the next several months paddling the entire shoreline of Lake Lanier for Relay for Life. She began the trek Wednesday at Don Carter State Park in Gainesville shortly after meeting her initial fundraising goal.

“I actually had to reset my goal, because I already surpassed my fundraising goal. I was at $695 today, and I hadn’t even paddled anything yet,” she said. “It originally was $1 a mile, now it’s going hopefully up to $1,200 or about $2 a mile.”

Richardson is using a GoPro personal camera to monitor her journey and keep track of all her mileage. She will continually update her Facebook page, Paddle Lanier, throughout the next several months. She expects to cover all of Lake Lanier’s 695 miles of shoreline by the end of the summer.

“My plan is to do the whole lake, but I haven’t set it all out,” she said. “A lot of it is going to depend on weather. I’m a teacher, so I have spring break next week and I’ll be doing a lot of the northern part of the lake then.”

Richardson is asking friends and fellow kayakers to join her. Eight joined her Wednesday for the journey from Don Carter State Park to the Lanier Canoe and Kayak Club. She said she’s heard from more than a dozen people interested in tagging along.

“Dana is a good friend of mine, and her having recovered from pancreatic cancer, I want to be here for her,” said John Mitchell from Cumming. “I think it’s phenomenal what she’s doing and I want to join her all I can with this.”

Richardson was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2004.

“Pancreatic cancer is one of those cancers where, by the time it’s diagnosed it’s usually too late,” she said. “I know so many people who were diagnosed and within the year, they were gone. I guess I was lucky.”

She had a massive operation at Emory that year to remove the head of her pancreas, her gallbladder and parts of her small intestine and bile duct. She 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.

“Finally, just this past fall, they found another,” she said. “But actually my surgeon recommended I go to another surgeon that doesn’t interventional radiology. It’s a new procedure that uses MRIs to guide lasers. It was such a small tumor they could use a laser to get rid of it.”

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

Wednesday was not only a celebration of Richardson, but a bittersweet celebration of her friend, Frankie Jo Vinson, who lost her battle with cancer. April 1 was Vinson’s birthday, and her husband and son-in-law joined Richardson for the paddle Wednesday.

“She had her entire church praying for me when I was going through my surgeries,” Richardson said. “Just to see her go so quickly after living such a full life — that’s what this is for today.”

Richardson said she’s not one to make speeches, but she made a short one Wednesday.

“Thank you for all the support and for coming out today,” she said. “I know today is significant for me and a celebration of life, but it is also a celebration of Frankie Jo’s life and all the lives she touched.”