Hardeeville woman's legacy lives on with Swamp Run for Sue 5K

jpaprocki@islandpacket.comJune 26, 2012 

Sue Chapman is pictured on her stand-up paddle board in September 2010.

PICASA — Special to Lowcountry Life

  • Swamp Run for Sue 5K Run and Walk will be at 6:30 p.m. June 30 at Sgt. Jasper Park, 1458 Red Dam Road in Hardeeville. Registration is $25.

    Kayaking, disc golf, fishing and other activities will be available from 4 to 7:30 p.m. for a small donation.

    Registration is available online through June 28 at www.active.com. Race day registration is from 5:30 to 6:15 p.m.

Fighting cancer was important to Sue Chapman even before she found out that she'd have to take on that battle herself.

The founder of Swamp Girls Kayak Tours was a longtime participant in the local Relay for Life events to benefit the American Cancer Society. When she was diagnosed with a rare cancer in 2009, she both fought it for herself and for others suffering.

Chapman died in February 2011. Now, her friends and family will continue to fight in her honor.

The Swamp Run for Sue 5K Run and Walk will be held June 30 at Sgt. Jasper Park. Proceeds will benefit the cancer society.

"I know Sue would have been pleased," her partner and co-founder of Swamp Girls Linda Etchells said. "She would be proud. I know that she'd want us to fight this disease."

A native of Buffalo, N.Y., Chapman moved to the Lowcountry in 1991. She fell in love with the tidal marshes and nature trails that populate the Lowcountry. She and Etchells got involved in a kayaking group in Beaufort.

After a while, they decided they could make kayaking their lives. They started Swamp Girls in 2000, organizing tours both locally and as far away as Alaska.

Swamp Girls became more than just a business, Etchells said. They became close to many of the fellow kayakers to the extent that they began to feel like an extended family.

They didn't stop at kayaking excursions either.

They were both involved in organizing or participating in fundraisers for Palmetto Animal League, American Red Cross and other nonprofit organizations.

Chapman, whose mother was a two-time cancer survivor, started going to Relay for Life events at about the same time they started Swamp Girls. Many of the Swamp Girl kayakers participated, too.

Shortly after Swamp Girls established an outpost in Sgt. Jasper Park, Chapman found out she had cancer.

"When you find out you think, 'Oh God, why me?' " Etchells said of Chapman's mindset at the time. "But then you settle down and find ways to fight it. And she did figh She gave it a good fight for 2 1/2 years."

A kayak along with Chapman's life vest and helmet served as a tribute at the Relay for Life this year in Ridgeland.

"It brought her to all of us in a very special way," said Nancy Wellard, community manager of the cancer society's local division. "She was just a very inspirational person. She was the type of person who did nice things for people just because she could."

Swamp Girls is no longer a business, but Etchells and others still go out twice a week with an active membership of about 50 kayakers. Many of them will run or walk Saturday.

"It's a family," she said. "We fight together, we stay together and we have fun together."

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