MUSKEGON, MI – A newly formed nonprofit organization plans to use paddleboard races this summer to support mental health initiatives in West Michigan.
The Muskegon Lakeshore Paddle Club unofficially started last year when three couples discovered paddleboarding and fell in love with the sport.
“Paddling catalyzed our friendships, deepened our relationships and it was, I would say, a bright spot in a very challenging period of time,” said co-founder Ryan Bryker.
The club is hosting its first race on Saturday, June 12 to introduce people to the sport and raise funds for the Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan.
Bryker says the club chose the foundation’s Be Nice program to be their first charitable recipient because the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted mental health issues.
“We wanted to elevate the awareness in hopes of reducing stigma for people to get the help they need,” he said.
Christy Buck, the director for the Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan, said the pandemic brought changes in routine, removed people from social situations and created a fear of the virus — all of which were “stressful situations” that could affect mental health.
“Mental health is every day,” said Buck. “Mental health awareness is: I’ve got to know when I’m mentally healthy and I’ve got to be able to recognize when I’m not mentally healthy.”
The Be Nice program uses a four-step action plan to increase mental health awareness and prevent suicide.
Buck sees the paddleboard races as being multifaceted in its support of mental health education.
“That sport is good for your mental health. One, it’s a form of exercise. Two, it’s getting outside. Three, it’s getting around people connecting myself,” she said. “In fact, they’re bringing awareness in a bigger scope that is really good for your mental health.”
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The Muskegon Lakeshore Paddle Club already raised $20,000 from sponsors and additional funds collected from the races will be donated to the Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan.
Anyone is invited to participate in the races, even if they’ve never paddled before.
Events at the first race on Mona Lake include a “fun one” one-mile paddle, a 5K and a 10K to accommodate various levels of experience.
“It’s really all about bringing the community together, having fun, and exploring a new sport,” Bryker said.
Races will use a lap format so the audience will be able to watch paddlers throughout the entire course.
The second competition is scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 28.
Bryker said the club hopes to establish a legacy with these events and support “relevant and timely” needs in the community with donations.
Anyone who wants to join but does not have paddleboarding equipment can reach out to the Muskegon Lakeshore Paddle Club on Facebook or on their website.
More details and registration information for the races can be found at muskegonlakeshorepaddleclub.org.
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