Kevin Cody

Hermosa Beach family paddles Catalina Channel in memory of ‘Peacha’

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Shayna Horton reaches the Manhattan Pier after a 32-mile relay paddle with her parents and brother from Catalina Island on Sunday. Photo by Paul Towers

by Kevin Cody

Over the past 13 years, Tom Horton has raised, on average, $10,000 a year for the ALS Association by competing in the Catalina Classic Paddleboard Race. The annual, 32 mile race starts at Two Harbors on Catalina Island and ends at the Manhattan Beach pier. 

Following the death of his mother “Peacha” from ALS in 2005, the Hermosa Beach resident set up a fundraising website called PaddlingToDefeatALS.org. “Peacha” was a beloved teacher of Hermosa Beach third graders for 25 years. 

The doctor who diagnosed her told her family, “Get her things in order. She has about six months to live.”

“We left the doctor’s office without even a prescription. I work in the health field. But I was still shocked to learn there was no treatment for ALS. And there still isn’t, though there are some promising Phase 3 trials underway,” Horton said.

This year’s Catalina Classic was canceled because of the pandemic. But rather than abandon his ALS fundraising until next year, Horton decided to join a group of paddlers three weeks ago on an unofficial Catalina Channel paddle. Because it wasn’t a race, instead of paddling the 32 miles solo, Horton decided to do the paddle as a relay with his wife Darci, son Cole and daughter Shayna. Though Cole has also competed in the Catalina Classic, neither Darci nor Shayna had previously paddled.

Darci, Cole, Tom and Shayna Horton

“Getting them into paddling was one of the benefits of the pandemic,” Horton said.

Paddling, like running and bicycling, is a simple sport. But the logistics for long paddles are daunting. They include an escort boat to provide nutrition and help in case of an emergency.

On the evening prior to the paddle three weeks ago, the Hortons’ escort boat broke down. Two dozen paddlers took off from the island the following morning without them.

Aside from the disappointment of not being able to participate in the paddle, Horton felt responsible for the $10,000 in pledges made to PaddlingToDefeatALS.org.

To make good on the pledges, the Horton family returned to Catalina Island this past Saturday.  Sunday morning, they paddled back to the Manhattan pier. Their escort boat was Que Paso, a 37-foot power boat skippered by Matt Meistrell. Que Paso previously was owned by Meistrell’s grandfather Bob and uncle Bill, who for many years skippered the lead boat for the Catalina Classic.

Horton said his wife and daughter started Sunday’s crossing with apprehensions about paddling in water known for unpredictable weather and a stretch off Palos Verdes called Mako Mile. But their fears were dispelled by smooth water and wildlife sightings that included a pod of spinning dolphins and a rare, leaping marlin.

Paddlers who had made the crossing two weeks earlier were on the beach to greet the family at the finish. ER

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