Cape Rotarian looks to raise funds via canoe paddle
A childhood dream will be realized for one Cape resident over the next three months with a philanthropic twist.
Erik Elsea, a Realtor with Jones & Co. Realty and acting president of the Cape Coral Rotary Club, plans to canoe down the entire length of the Mississippi River, solo, over a span of 90 days with aspirations to raise $255,200 for ShelterBox, a global charity that provides humanitarian aid to communities that have gone through a natural disaster or civil conflict.
“I’m really excited about it,” Elsea said. “It’s been a life-long dream of mine since I was 9.”
A Waterloo, Illinois native, Elsea spent his youth canoeing in lakes behind his house and the Boundary Waters of Minnesota. He found he had a passion for the outdoors.
“I don’t remember how old I was when I first had a paddle in my hand,” he joked.
Growing up, Elsea said conquering the Mississippi was an unattainable feat – almost mythical in stature. He would always camp on the river banks as a child with his family, a tradition that he continued with friends as he grew older.
One day, he said to his father, “I’d love to canoe the Mississippi – I want to conquer the mighty river.”
Now, at a spry 40 years of age, he gets his chance.
His journey, years in the making, will begin July 7 at Park Rapids Rotary Club at Itasca State Park in Minnesota and ends Oct. 5 in Louisiana.
“We chose a 90-day outline because that’s how many days, according to scientists, it takes for a drop of water to flow from Itasca to the Gulf of Mexico,” he said.
Not until he reaches the 0 mile marker of the river, right before he hits Gulf waters, will his task be complete.
Only 40 brave souls even attempt to canoe the entire Mississippi River each year, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Using the skills he has compiled over the span of his life, training with the Fort Myers Speedsters and paddling the close-by Estero River, Elsea is cool, calm and collected about the journey he is about to embark on.
“I’m not nervous at all,” he said with ice water flowing through his veins. “There’s going to be all kinds of unexpected challenges along the way. I feel I can take them on- that’s what makes it an adventure.”
Elsea plans to average 25 miles per day on his trek, making stops to give presentations about ShelterBox as an ambassador to various organizations such as Rotary Clubs. He already has 10 different events scheduled with more being planned as he navigates along.
The goal is to raise $100 per mile of the Mississippi.
He will camp most nights along the river, just as he did as a child, bringing along multiple items that are included in ShelterBox supply kits.
Basic necessities such as a tent, blankets, solar light, dishware, mosquito netting and a small burner for cooking will accompany Elsea.
“I’m even using the water purifier provided in ShelterBox kits, that’s how much I believe in their technology,” he said.
Contamination of water following a natural disaster often leads to a rise in deaths and disease.
He’ll be able to feed his “wild side” thanks to Jack Links providing him with unlimited beef jerky and protein snacks.
Maybe even a “river angel” will provide a warm shower and a hot meal from time to time.
Elsea moved to Cape Coral in 2006 and got introduced to the Rotary Club by attending a meeting on the referral of a former president of the group.
“After the meeting, I fell in love with the organization. I’m a proud Rotarian and will be until I die,” he said vigorously.
His passion segued into him becoming a member of the board of trustees and eventually, elected president of the club by his peers in July 2017.
Elsea’s one-year tenure as president will end June 30, just a week before his expedition.
“I’m honored to be both a Rotarian and a volunteer ShelterBox Ambassador,” he said. “The collaboration between the two organizations enables many more people to receive the help they need after losing everything.”
ShelterBox is actually a product of a Rotarian group in the United Kingdom, founded in 2000, and is Rotary International’s official Project Partner in disaster relief.
In 2002, it was adopted as a project of a Rotary Club in Sarasota, where ShelterBox USA was established as a 5013 nonprofit organization in 2004.
“ShelterBox is a big part of Florida’s Rotary heritage,” Elsea said.
The charity supplies family-sized tents and essential tools to begin repairing and rebuilding homes. Their kits and boxes contain items that transform a shelter into a home such as cooking sets, solar lights, blankets, water filtration and activity sets for children.
“As a Realtor, I know how important it is for people to have a home and a community,” said Elsea. “By supporting ShelterBox, we can help ensure that many more families around the world will have shelter when disaster strikes.”
His advocacy stems from personal experience, as his family had to endure The Great Flood of 1993 that affected the American Midwest along the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers from May to October of that year.
It was among the most costly and devastating floods to have taken place in the United States, with $15 billion in damages.
“Flooding remains the greatest natural cause of devastation on our planet,” said Elsea. “I want to commemorate the 25th anniversary of that Great Flood by supporting relief efforts for others around the world who have lost their homes in recent disasters.”
He praises the foundation for having the highest charity rating one can obtain and is grateful to meet those who he says are “having the worst day of their lives.”
ShelterBox USA holds a Gold status from GuideStar and is recognized as a 4-Star rated charity by Charity Navigator.
Elsea met a man who had lost everything following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and was supplied a ShelterBox, in which he lived in while waiting for a FEMA trailer to arrive.
“It moves you,” said Elsea. “To meet someone you’ve helped and to see how you’ve made a difference during such a tough time -it makes you want to help more people.”
Recently, ShelterBox deployed assets to Guatemala where they have experienced the most powerful volcanic eruption since 1974.
Elsea has spent time there volunteering for Rotary projects.
“My heart breaks for the families who have lost loved ones and the survivors who face such unbelievable devastation,” he said.
Those who find Elsea’s expedition inspiring, can become a sponsor.
To support his fundraiser, donate at www.shelterboxusa.org/expedition.
You can also track his journey by visiting www.mississippiexpedition.com or by following Elsea’s Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.