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MIPD officer Josh Ferris returns from 70-mile paddleboard trip

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Marco Island Police Department (MIPD) officer Josh Ferris would do anything for his friends, and on Saturday, 'anything' meant paddleboarding 50 miles across open ocean from the Bahamas to the Florida mainland as part of Crossing for a Cure, an event dedicated to raising awareness of and finding a cure for cystic fibrosis.

Travis Suit of West Palm Beach founded Crossing for a Cure in 2011 after his then-4-year-old daughter Piper was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis. Cystic fibrosis is a congenital disease that affects the lungs and pancreas.

“The moment she was diagnosed, I just turned on the switch and said anything and everything we have to do,” Suit says in a video on the Crossing for a Cure website.

More: Just keep paddling: SWFL paddleboarders to cross ocean to save little girl

So in 2013, he and three of his friends – Shane Pompa, Joseph Morel and Kyle Igneri – grabbed their paddleboards and set out to surf 90 miles from Bimini, Bahamas to Riviera Beach in the inaugural Crossing for a Cure.

The connection between paddleboarding and cystic fibrosis lies in the therapeutic nature of saltwater; according to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, inhaling saltwater rehydrates the lining of the lungs and loosens the thick mucus that builds up, thus reducing recurrent infections and associated lung damage and respiratory failure.

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On Saturday, Suit once again paddleboarded from the Bahamas to Florida for his daughter, but this time more than 30 other paddleboarders joined him, including Ferris, who's been good friends with Suit since the two met at a Jimmy Buffet concert 10 years ago.

Together, the group raised $127,272 for cystic fibrosis research, more than doubling its initial goal of $50,000 and even exceeding its increased goal of $100,000. Of that $127,272, Ferris personally raised $15,055. 

"Research on cystic fibrosis is fairly new, even just since Piper's been born," Ferris said in a previous interview, "and every year of research increases life expectancy, so if we raise more money for research and raise more awareness of the disease, I don't know why they shouldn't be able to find a cure."

Prior to the journey, Ferris said he was well aware of the physical toll it would take.

"I've been around water my whole life, so I'm not too worried about sharks or the sea or anything like that; that stuff just doesn't bother me," he said. "I know it's going to hurt though, and take toll on my body. I'm anticipating a little bit of pain afterwards, but it's worth it."

And hurt it did.

"It was without a doubt the most pain I've ever put myself through," Ferris said.

Had the journey been exactly 50 miles as planned, it wouldn't have been so bad, Ferris said, but, thanks to a strong wind and Gulf Stream, the trip ended up being 70 miles.

"I was good physically until about mile 55; that's when I started wearing down," he said. "It was all mental from there. I was just pushing through and forcing myself to go on."

Making matters worse was the fact that, save for a safety boat, Ferris was paddling alone, and the direction of the wind forced him to paddle on the same side for the entirety of the trip.

"I never had time to rest my right side because I was battling the wind," he said, "so my right bicep and tricep and everything was just getting beat down. It's not that the wind was bad; it was just blowing in the wrong direction."

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This Father's Day, 34 paddleboarders will venture 50 miles across the open ocean to raise awareness of cystic fibrosis. Wochit

Luckily, Ferris and the other paddleboarders had a strong team behind them, providing them with encouragement and, more importantly, food and water. 

"I couldn't have done it without the help of the crew and the support from everyone," he said. "It definitely wasn't all me. If it was, it would have been impossible."

Despite the pain, Ferris plans on crossing the ocean again someday.

"We don't know if it's going to be an annual event or bi-annual, but we're definitely going again," he said.

To learn more about Crossing for a Cure, visit crossingforacure.com or 'like' the group's Facebook page. To learn more about Piper's Angels, Suit's cystic fibrosis awareness foundation, visit pipersangels.org.

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