Karin Horen is a well-known name around Auckland. Her bubbly, vivacious attitude is infectious. However, it’s not just her socialite status that makes her a household name, but her inspirational story with breast cancer that has left her dedicated to bringing awareness to the cause.

Karin was first diagnosed with breast cancer at only 26. The mother of three young girls carries the BRCA1 gene, the same gene that Angelina Jolie and many other women have. Luckily, her early diagnosis meant that doctors were able to act fast. Tragically, that cancer would return 14 years later resulting in a mastectomy.

Paddle For Hope

Karin started paddleboarding after arriving in New Zealand in 2009 after her first encounter with breast cancer. She co-created Paddle For Hope in 2011 as a fundraising event for breast cancer awareness and to emphasise the importance of exercise and wellbeing for cancer patients.

“I felt the positive impact it had on my whole body, on my muscles as it activates all our muscle groups,” Karin says. “I also noticed how confident I have become and I started trusting the ocean more. The limitless opportunities, the endless sea borders made me smile. I realised that the combination of the sun’s Vitamin D and being on the water has therapeutic power. It made a difference to my range of movement and core strength too. All that resonated with me and with the need to do more about my breast cancer physical side effects. The toll the surgery and chemo took on my body after my first encounter with breast cancer at the age of 26 was huge even back then.”

Paddle For Hope brings awareness to breast cancer and raises money for cancer rehabilitation for a program called Paddle On, a clinically endorsed rehabilitation program that uses SUP boards to help men and woman recovering from all types of cancer. Since its inception in 2011, the events have raised over $350,000 for cancer rehabilitation.

“There is no ACC for cancer in NZ. There is actually no rehabilitation system that follows patients from day one of their procedures,” Karin says. “I personally, as a breast cancer survivor, have suffered post surgeries and had to initiate my rehabilitation. By fundraising for the program, raising awareness for the sport and getting people together to share their journey on the water, we encourage community support and as a result, people after cancer get a better quality of life. The study we did has shown how stand up paddle has improved the overall well being of the patients.”

Karin started Paddle For Hope with the help of watersports specialists Starboard NZ in Wynyard Quater (Auckland Viaduct), later moving to Okahu Bay due to its extensive growth. The events have also taken place in Wellington, Napier and even in her country of origin, Israel.

“The program is set up in NZ but we are hoping it will be worldwide,” Karin says. “To see the board in Japan, Russia, Spain and other countries with the princess warrior design is an amazing achievement. I am very grateful to the Starboard team.”

The Paddle For Hope foundation also offers standup paddle boarding merchandise, perfect for anyone who wants a standout pink board out in the sea.

Most recently, Karin has furthered her continuous endeavour in promoting and fundraising for breast cancer by teaming up with swimwear brand Aurai and designer Natalie Bertolo. Together, they converted Aurai’s original designs and developed a mastectomy-friendly alternative so women can feel comfortable and confident about going to the beach and pools throughout summer.

Giving Back

Karin puts on a brave face but she has had to deal with many trials and tribulations yet always comes out smiling. Most recently she underwent a reconstructive surgery which resulted in complications in her recovery. The mother of three has had to give up her job for her surgeries but continually looks at the positives.

Her friends have created a Givealittle page to give back to the woman who gives so much for others. All proceeds will go towards buying her a car to get Paddle For Hope out on the road again.

“I was overwhelmed when I was told about it,” Karin says. “A friend of mine initiated the fundraiser as they have seen my struggle in the past five years since I was diagnosed again. In and out of hospital, three little girls, mostly on my own. Not just the struggle financially but getting through it and still fundraising and helping cancer patients on the water. I never stopped paddleboarding, not even when I was having chemo. It saved my soul.”

“There were times where we thought we would stop because I wasn’t well but I said, “NO! We have to continue” — isn’t it what Paddle For Hope is all about? I am very grateful as this will go towards a Paddle For Hope vehicle which will serve the purpose and of course my three girls and myself. I think most of us can find it hard to receive something we don’t expect. I am good in asking for help from friends at times but gosh I am so bad in accepting big things like this. I realised that many people want to help this way as they cannot find time to help in other ways.”

“One of the best feelings in the world is to give. I have lost dear friends who passed away from cancer who paddleboarded with me. I will never forget their smiles. I paddled two months ago just before my last procedure with a beautiful girl. She is unwell but she is a fighter. I took her for a paddle. I knew how important that was for her.”

You can donate to support Karin Horen, her venture and selfless persistence in breast cancer awareness on her Givealittle page, here.

Main photo: John Borren

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