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Derby teen revives special tradition of ‘Kanoeing for Kids’

Alex Lahood still remembers his fascination with Frank C. Vail Jr.’s canoeing stories.

As a young boy, Alex would sit in the First Church of Evans on Sundays and listen attentively as the man in his 70s described his weeklong trips on the Erie Canal.

But in those presentations, Vail didn’t just talk about his love for canoeing. His passion for paddling transcended sport.

Through “Kanoeing for Kids,” a fundraising event he created in 1998, Vail and other canoeists collected about $83,000 for Camp Good Days & Special Times, a summer camp on Keuka Lake for children, adults and families affected by cancer.

“He had tons of stories,” said Alex, 16, of Derby. “He could talk your ear off, but everyone wanted to listen. I remember days in church when, as a little kid, you don’t really want to sit through a service, so that would take up much of the service, which was kind of nice – listening to his stories about the kids and paddling along.”

Vail made his 12th and final canoeing trip from Buffalo to the Branchport camp in 2009. The Derby resident died of lung cancer in May of 2010 at age 76 

But Vail’s tradition lives on.

Alex, a junior at Nichols School, and a few buddies Saturday embarked on an eight-day canoe excursion along Vail’s old route to support Camp Good Days.

Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal? Nope.

For Alex and his partners, it will be 175 miles from the North Tonawanda Botanical Gardens to the shores of Keuka Lake, where they expect to be greeted by a swarm of young campers Saturday.

“I’ve been on plenty of canoe trips, even up in the Arctic,” Alex said. “This shouldn’t be too bad.

“I know how much fun it is. I know these kids are in desperate need. I do it for the kids.”

Alex decided last summer that he wanted to revive Kanoeing for Kids, but first made sure he had the permission of Vail’s widow, Edel.

“I was absolutely thrilled, and my husband would have been, too, if he were still alive,” said Edel Vail, 77. “My husband was really dedicated to Camp Good Days and the children.”

Alex said he is being joined by a member of his church, Brandon Whitworth, and two other Nichols students, Josh Hobika and Peter Najdzionek, for the duration of the trip.

They plan to paddle about 30 miles a day and camp at various spots along the way. A crew from the First Church of Evans will assist at the campsites.

In recent weeks, they have been busy collecting pledges and sponsorships “on land,” Alex said, noting that they have raised about $5,000 and hope to gather more donations while “on water.”

Those interested in donating can mail a check with “Kanoeing for Kids” in the memo line to: Camp Good Days Buffalo Office, 6430 Transit Road, Suite 200, Depew, NY 14043-1033

email: scampbell@buffnews.com