Ultra-distance athlete Kerri Kanuga celebrates her 45th birthday this weekend, and her idea of marking the occasion is a little unconventional – she is going to swim the 6 miles across North Sound before running four marathons spanning 106 miles.
At 8 a.m. Saturday, Ms. Kanuga will set off from Starfish Point to swim across the North Sound to Barkers Beach in West Bay, which she estimates will take around four hours. Then she will run the 53 miles from Barkers to Starfish Point and back, all in one day.
She hopes to finish on Sunday afternoon, her birthday.
Inspired by Hannah Meeson
Ms. Kanuga aims to raise as much money as possible doing the “Ker-a-thon” for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation on behalf of Hannah Meeson, 7, who is battling cancer. So far, donations and pledges exceed $7,000, including $2,000 from local businessman Marcus Cumber.
After meeting Hannah, Ms. Kanuga was inspired to raise money and awareness for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, described as the largest nongovernment fundraiser for pediatric cancer research.
Hannah was diagnosed with medulloblastoma in 2012. Despite her current diagnosis of no evidence of disease, her cancer treatments have left her unable to walk unassisted, she is without balance and has hearing, vision and cognitive difficulties. Though constant therapy has helped, the fight against cancer is far from over for Hannah and her family.
“Hannah is a beautiful, brave little girl who simply was given a bad hand,” said Ms. Kanuga.
“I know that if I experience discomfort when I train, I can simply stop. These kids are not given that luxury, and it breaks my heart that they have to go through this.”
Heroes for Hannah is a hero fund of the St. Baldrick’s Foundation established two years ago to raise awareness of and money for childhood cancer research and to honor Hannah and other childhood cancer survivors in Cayman, including Skylar “Mimi” Ebanks, Tayden Grant, Beau Shields, Annabel Reading and Charli Foster.
“St. Baldrick’s is a wonderful organization. They only fund pediatric cancer research and they do it well,” said Gaylene Meeson, Hannah’s mother. “We are delighted that Kerri has chosen our hero fund, Heroes for Hannah, as her inspiration and motivation to complete such a gruelling challenge.”
Ms. Kanuga said that Hannah’s family “are such wonderful people.” She said they will be out on the boat with Hannah during her swim from Starfish Point to Barkers Beach on Saturday morning, weather permitting. “They have also helped me with the fundraising and have been very encouraging,” she said.
Ms. Kanuga lost her father to cancer two years ago, so this is another motivator for her.
She has trained intensely for months and will be joined on her road run by her coach, Lisa Smith-Batchen, who is one of the best ultra-athletes in the world.
In the water, Brenda Anderson will kayak alongside Ms. Kanuga as she did for ultra-swimmer Diana Nyad during the Cuba-Key West swim in 2013.
Ms. Kanuga injured a calf muscle last week, so she has not been running much. “I have been able to get out for a swim, but at this point I am on a taper, so trying to get as much rest as possible,” she said.
Generally, her preparations have gone well. “I’m mostly injury-free – no broken bones – nothing that will stop me from doing the Ker-a-thon,” she said.
She has set up a Facebook page, Ker-a-thon, so people can follow her progress.
Ms. Kanuga said she has been preparing to run 100 miles for more than two years, but she had to postpone due to various injuries.
“I really enjoy running and swimming long distances; it’s meditative,” she said. “I never imagined I would do a marathon, and then I was talking to Tony Watts (a local ultra-distance athlete) one day a few years ago and he insisted I could do it.”
Ms. Kanuga assumed he knew what he was talking about after he completed a double Ironman – total 4.4-mile open water swim, 224-mile bike and 52-mile run – so she tried and “felt something amazing happen.”
She added, “I felt so good at the end of the marathon, I felt as though I could do it again. I am very lucky that Cayman allows for training all year.”
Ms. Kanuga is pleased she has Ms. Anderson as her kayaker. “I have swam with her many times before and she keeps me in a straight line.
“I am also very lucky to have Kate Alexander as my swim coordinator who has taught me everything I know about open water swimming, especially swimming in rough seas.”
Ms. Smith-Batchen has won many major events “so she has started making even crazier stuff up,” said Ms. Kanuga, adding that her run on Saturday and Sunday will be the toughest ultra-distance event undertaken by a female Cayman resident, although women worldwide have done similar feats many times.
Ms. Kanuga said she was with Ms. Smith-Batchen last July where she ran from Badwater (the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere) to the top of Mount Whitney (the tallest peak in the contiguous United States) in Death Valley (the hottest place on earth) over three mountain ranges, a total of more than 100 miles.
“She did this four times in a row, for a total of 584 miles,” Ms. Kanuga said.
Also on Ms. Smith-Batchen’s support team was George Velasco, who will be on Ms. Kanuga’s team.
“He has done this many times and will be of great assistance to get me to the finish,” she said.
Tatum Jose, communications coordinator during the event, will be updating Facebook and keeping the Ker-a-thon WhatsApp group current so people can come out and join Ms. Kanuga while she is on the road.
In preparation for this, Ms. Kanuga swam the 12.5 miles around Key West last June and has been building on that.
She also did a 53-mile run a month ago. There have been numerous Sunday runs of more than 20 miles with her training partner Karina McDermot, and she peaked at running about 75 miles and swimming 10 miles a week.
Although she has completed triathlons before, Ms. Kanuga is not doing a cycling leg for this. She said, “I’m not crazy enough to get on a bike on this island” because she “knows too many cyclists that have been injured by cars.”
‘I have nothing else to do today’
At the start of this arduous challenge, her mindset will be, “I’ve taken the day off work, so I’ve got all day to do this” and “I have nothing else to do today.”
She added, “These simple things will keep me in the moment and will allow me to enjoy the event.”
The last few miles on Sunday morning will be extremely painful, so the support of friends will be a great boost, she said.
Ms. Kanuga, who works as a realtor, is pleased that ultra-distance runner James Murray, who did a 100-mile run in Cayman for charity a few years ago, is coming from Canada to support her, as is her mother Betty Kanuga from Athabasca, Alberta.
“James coming over is a last-minute thing and that’s very exciting,” she said. “He was the one who originally inspired me to even attempt such an event.”
When she finishes, Ms. Kanuga hopes to celebrate with some ice cream. “Someone told me I should have considered going to the spa to celebrate my birthday. Honestly, the thought did not even cross my mind.”
Those interested in supporting Ms. Kanuga’s fundraising efforts may donate online at https://www.stbaldricks.org/donate/fundraiser/874/2015
; call her directly on 916-7020, or email [email protected].