Adler Paddler

Participants in a previous Adler Paddler race around Naples Island.

People may paddle for a purpose this Saturday — raising awareness for aortic health.

The sixth annual Adler Paddler begins at 9 a.m. and circles Naples Island, starting from near the U.S. Sailing Center.

The event raised $7,288 last year for the John Ritter Foundation for Aortic Health and about $30,000 during the past five years — something organizer Jodie Nelson said she never expected to do.

The pro surfer was training to be the first woman to paddleboard from Catalina to Dana Point in 2010 — raising money for breast cancer foundations under the supervision of her friend, Steve Adler. The two had raced at the Cold Hands Paddle in San Pedro.

“We started standup paddling together,” Nelson said.

She said she had returned from a trip, hooked on the sport. In fact, she and Adler started SUPSpot, offering lessons.

When the two raced during Cold Hands, she joked she was going to beat him, and she did. He hung back during the race, she said, because something wasn’t feeling right in his chest.

“He was in the best shape of his life,” Nelson said. “He ended up passing away a week later from an aortic dissection… He never got properly tested.”

Adler’s father passed away from the same thing, she said, and Adler had received some kind of tests, but they weren’t the right ones. She said Adler’s son is tested now because it’s commonly a genetic problem.

Donning “Adler” on her shirt, Nelson paddleboarded the 40-mile route on March 28, 2010, in just more than nine hours, with a minke whale by her side for two of those hours.

“Some people thought it was Steve looking out for me,” Nelson said.

The feat raised more than $120,000 for two breast cancer education/awareness foundations, with some left over.

“People said, ‘Why don’t you start your own nonprofit?’” she said.

And she did — Paddle With Purpose was born.

“Wherever we can step up, we use standup paddling to help causes we believe in,” Nelson said.

She said she wanted to create a race similar to Cold Hands.

“It’s a fun, free low-key event,” Nelson said. “And he (Steve) really loved standup paddling.”

The Adler Paddler teamed up with the John Ritter Foundation in 2011.

The race includes a fun paddle, 2.8 or 5.6-mile route starting from 5437 E. Ocean Blvd. and circles Naples once or twice. Those who don’t have a paddleboard may rent one at www.standuprentals.net in advance. People also may reserve a board and paddle rental in exchange for a donation at www.spinlister.com/profile/18518.

“I’d love to get to $10,000 this year,” Nelson said, “But it’s about educating people. If we can make a difference in just one person’s life, that’s what’s important… It’s also about sharing the sport with other people.”

At the event, Dr. Peter Tsai, acute aortic rupture and acute aortic dissection survivor, as well as founder of www.aorticwarriors.org, will be available to discuss aortic health and distribute Ritter Rules. The rules outline ways to recognize, treat and prevent thoracic aortic dissection, or deadly tear in the large artery that carries blood away from the heart.

DOGZ Bar & Grill on Second Street will donate 15% of all sales from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. that day to the event.

For more information, to donate and register, visit www.paddlewithpurpose.org.

Emily Thornton can be reached at ethornton@gazettes.com.

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Emily is a staff writer covering higher education and other various topics for Gazette Newspapers. She has a background in weekly and daily newspapers and a bachelor’s in communication from La Sierra University.

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