For nearly 20 years Kara’s confidence had lived in the cellar, thrust ever downward by the torrent of tonic-clonic seizures that struck at 13. After a lifetime of hiding in dank corners, Kara climbed bravely, fiercely into the light.
It was 2013. Her grandpa, so beloved, had died. Kara sought to make him proud.
“I needed to own my epilepsy,” she says.
Establishing the Kara Lynn Foundation
Own it she did, launching the Kara Lynn Foundation in 2015. Its mission, to support kids and families battling neurological disorders, was inspired by Kara’s own insecurities.
“For years, I felt like I had no purpose,” says Kara, who developed absence seizures and received an epilepsy diagnosis at age 6. “When you don’t accept where your life is at, you can let it consume you or you can figure it out. I wanted to instill in others the confidence that I lacked for so long.”
Following the Current to Kayak for a Cause
As the Kara Lynn Foundation’s executive director, Kara leads by example. At home one evening in Olympia, Wash., she watched a woman raise pledge money on “Dare for Dollars,” wondering how she could do the same.
“Washington is great for kayaking,” says the 36-year-old. “I thought I could use it to build a following and raise money. I had kayaked only twice in my life. It was really out of the box for me.”
About a year after launching the Kara Lynn Foundation, Kara popped into a kayak and paddled 70 miles from Ballard, Wash., to Olympia. It took three days. “I just went for it,” she says.
With that, Kayak for a Cause was born. The third annual fundraiser, in which Kara will paddle 90 miles over three days, begins Sept. 13th. She will be joined by 15 friends, family members and sponsors, each of whom has committed to paddling 10 to 20 miles in a relay.
Kara’s epilepsy requires her to take extra precautions on the water. A support boat carrying a nurse and epilepsy medication rides alongside her, just in case she should have a seizure.
Had anyone asked 20 years ago if Kara could kayak 70 miles, she would have said no. “It was only when I started making life changes that I realized, I may have to do it differently than others, but I can still do it,” she says. “Seeing the positive opened a lot of doors for me.”
Smoothing the Waters for Struggling Families
Now Kara is opening doors for others. The Kara Lynn Foundation touches families in meaningful ways. It provides food and lodging for families facing long hospital stays, hosts support groups for parents, and adopts families at the holidays. It also purchases school supplies and arranges modified adventures for young patients.
But Kara’s favorite service doesn’t cost a cent.
“I try to be a friend to these families,” she says. “I sit with them in the waiting room while their son or daughter is having brain surgery. I love doing it, because I know it makes them feel better.”
Kara recalls the first kayaking trip, the one where she paddled 70 miles. A lot of people said she couldn’t do it. The girl she once was would have shrunk in the face of that challenge.
“Now, as an adult, when you tell me I can’t, I’m going to do it and take it 10 steps further,” Kara says. “It’s a mental game. I fight through it, and in the end I achieve it. Every year it motivates me more and more.”
Kara knows kids with epilepsy are watching. By the time they meet her, they’ve already learned to tell themselves “never.” Kara talks with them about where she’s been, what she’s overcome.
“I try to show them, we all have something,” she says. “And just because you’re here right now doesn’t mean you can’t get to where you need to be.”
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Please note: All photos provided by the Kara Lynn Foundation