By Mike Cugno

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KEY BISCAYNE (CBSMiami) – Several teachers at a local high school have found new inspiration for a journey they’ve made time and time again.

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Each year, for the past 18 years, they’ve jumped in their kayaks and made for Key West to raise money for cancer research.

But this year they’re turning the loss of a student into a drive to do more.

On Saturday morning, a small group of paddlers known as the Castaways Against Cancer launched from Key Biscayne and pointed their kayaks towards Key West.

The long trip aims to raise money for cancer research.

“It’s a seven day, 160 mile trip in support of the American Cancer Society and this is our 18th annual trip,” said Patrick Linfors. “We’ve raised about $85,000 this year for the ACS to fight cancer and to honor those who have fought the fight. Since 2000 this team has raised over 900 thousand dollars.”

Calling this trip grueling would be an understatement as the kayakers have to navigate roughly 25 miles a day through wind, rain, and sometimes large waves.

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“This is not a trip where we do a lot of sightseeing,” said Linfors. “This is a trip where you have to paddle and paddle hard.”

Before they set off, a couple hundred supporters joined them for a quick prayer, a first stroke through the water and a final goodbye to loved ones.

“It’s the reality of our life right now,” said Castaway Against Cancer member Eric Pino. “We all know people. It’s extremely personal and important and worth any time and effort I have to give to it.”

Luckily they’re not alone.  A road crew which consists of wives and children will follow them with supplies and equipment, a support group which demands a clean bill of health before they hit the open ocean.

“I am a little nervous but I know he can do it,” said Maris De La Aguilera, whose husband Lou will be part of the trip. “Before he goes on this trip he has a stress test with a cardiologist and when he approves I say ok you can go and I trust he’ll be ok.”

Many of the kayakers are teachers at Christopher Columbus High School who paddle with a heavy heart after losing one of their students to cancer; Sebastian Ortiz.

His family was in attendance to see the sendoff and newly designed kayak in his honor.

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“The boat is made by Alejandro Mijares, he’s a local artist in Miami,” said Pino. “He wrapped it up for us. My boat is the embodiment of the spirit of Sebastian. We’re using the boat as a vessel to raise money for an organization that started just five weeks ago called and they’ve raised over seventy grand in five weeks by using the boat as literally their vessel to fund raise.”