Challenge: Destin firefighter Holly Heidenreich makes 80-mile crossing from Bahamas to Florida

Tina Harbuck
The Destin Log

As if it wasn’t challenging enough to make the 80-mile crossing on open water from the Bahamas to Florida on a paddleboard, Destin’s Holly Heidenreich decided to do it with no paddle.

Heidenreich, a 25-year-old Destin firefighter, along with teammate Megan Scully of Palm Beach County, competed in the Crossing for Cystic Fibrosis. The Crossing is a long-distance endurance paddle challenge and international championship race that takes paddlers 80 miles across the Gulf Stream from Bimini in the Bahamas back to the Florida mainland, according to The Crossing website. 

Holly Heidenreich, a firefighter and EMT with the Destin Fire Control District, recently completed an 80-mile paddleboard journey from Bimini Bahamas to the Florida mainland as part of the 2022 Crossing For Cystic Fibrosis challenge.

Heidenreich and her teammate decided to do The Crossing on a prone board. 

“A lot of people in this race do standup, but we wanted to challenge ourselves, so we did it prone,” Heidenreich said. 

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She described the prone board as being similar to a lifeguard rescue board where you lay on your stomach or your knees and use your arms to get you to move.  

“We really wanted to challenge ourselves for some reason,” she laughed. 

People in the past have competed prone, but this year, the two girls were the only ones to do it on a prone board. They used an 18-foot Bark board. 

For The Crossing, all styles of paddling vessels are welcomed from stand-up paddleboards from 12 to 14 feet, stand-up surf boards, inflatable boards, prone stock, kayaks to a two-person dory boat. 

Holly Heidenreich, a firefighter and EMT with the Destin Fire Control District, paddles her board across the calm waters of the Atlantic Ocean during last month's 2022 Crossing For Cystic Fibrosis challenge. Heidenreich and her teammate, Megan Scully from Lake Worth, paddled 80 miles from Bimini, Bahamas to the mainland of Florida in the event, which raises funds for and brings attention to those living with cystic fibrosis.

“The Crossing makes it open, so many different styles can do it. It’s like one of the longest races in the world,” she said. “A lot of people do teams … and a lot of guys do it separately, individually, and they are total bad asses that do it, because that’s a lot of mileage.”

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Heidenreich participated in the race in 2019 as part of a four-person standup paddle team. 

But this time around it was all about the challenge and doing something different, plus helping people at the same time. 

“I got wrapped in because it’s a good mental, physical challenge, plus it benefits a lot of families … so many people,” she said. 

Fundraising minimum for each paddler is $1,500. 

Holly Heidenreich, right, a firefighter and EMT with the Destin Fire Control District, and her teammate, Megan Scully from Lake Worth, pose for a picture after paddling 80 miles from Bimini, Bahamas to the mainland of Florida in last month's 2022 Crossing For Cystic Fibrosis challenge.

“We raised like three grand to be a part of it,” Heidenreich said, noting the money went for a good cause, cystic fibrosis. 

She started fundraising in January, calling on family, friends and locals around the community to help the cause.

THE CROSSING 

The actual 80-mile crossing of the Gulf Stream took place on June 26. 

Heidenreich said they launched at midnight on June 26 from Bimini and made it to Lake Worth, Florida, just south of West Palm Beach, around 3:45 p.m. the same day. 

Working as a two-person team, the two took turns on the board. They had a captain aboard a boat that followed alongside that kept them on track. 

"He was doing the GPS and coordinates and tracking and making sure we were going the right direction … and for safety,” she said. 

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They took 45-minute shifts on the board to start, then went to 30, then at midday they went closer to 20 minutes, so as to not get over heated or too tired. 

While one was on the board, the other was on the boat. 

“When she was paddling, I was able to hop on the boat, shake out my shoulders, get some water and electrolytes … and go again,” she said. 

"It was pitch black out there … it was like can’t see much,” Heidenreich said at night. 

When they made the board changes in the dark, “It was always like a weird feeling jumping in … like 2,000 feet … and you don’t know what’s below,” she said. 

However, Heidenreich said she has done shark dives before and spends a lot of time on the water, so she was pretty comfortable making the exchange. 

Nevertheless, she said, “It was an eerie feeling. It was foggy when we left. You couldn’t see the moon and stars.” 

Participants in last month's 2022 Crossing For Cystic Fibrosis challenge are pictured on their paddle boards in this aerial photograph. Destin firefighter and EMT Holly Heidenreich and her teammate, Megan Scully from Lake Worth, paddled 80 miles from Bimini, Bahamas to the mainland of Florida in the event, which raises funds for and brings attention to those living with cystic fibrosis.

First light for The Crossing was at about 5:30 a.m. 

“It was beautiful for that,” she said.  

The girls got their first sight of the coast of Florida about 6 o’clock. 

“You're like, 'I’m so close,' but no, you still got 60-million miles to go … oh no. You could see Florida for a long time, but not the part of Florida you wanted to see,” she laughed. 

Every time one of the girls got on the boat, it was water, electrolytes and sunscreen. 

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Heidenreich said they averaged about five miles per hour on the board and the water conditions were “like glass … ideal for this race.” 

“I guess we were going pretty fast for a prone board … you are using your arms.  We felt like we were doing pretty good. We’re proud of ourselves. It was challenging,” she said, noting they did it 15 ½ hours. 

THE TRAINING 

Because Heidenreich had done the race on a standup paddle board in the past she decided to challenge herself and do a whole new board style – the prone board. 

After she signed up for The Crossing in November of 2021, she started fundraising and training for the event in January. 

And due to the cold weather in January and February she got a wet suit and got on the board. 

“The Destin beach safety lifeguards helped me a lot (with training),” she said. 

Heidenreich said she spent a lot of hours in the gym working on back muscles and stamina. 

“Cardio was really important and I did a lot of swimming,” she said. 

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So, for a couple of hours every day, she was paddling, swimming and weightlifting. 

“I did it pretty much every day … it was a lot,” she said. 

She trained on her 12-foot board as well as her 10-foot board. 

“It’s hard to train for an 80-mile paddle,” she said, noting she did some long paddles prior to The Crossing. 

The prone board they actually used was an 18-footer. 

"On the longer board, you’re able to go further and faster,” she said. 

The 80-mile Crossing was not only a physical challenge but mental as well. 

“It’s more of a mental challenge, after about a few hours is when you start mentally breaking down. You start asking what am I doing? I don't want to do this anymore … you like overcome that. You’re going to be on this boat so you might as well keep going,” she said. 

As for her teammate, Scully, Heidenreich met her through a mutual friend, but never in person until she picked her up at the airport right before the race. 

But they were both up for the challenge. 

“We won't let each other down for the paddle,” Heidenreich said they told each other. 

NEXT 

When asked if she’d do the event again, Heidenreich paused a second or so, then said, “yes.” 

“I did the standup first and now I’ve done prone. I really enjoyed it and it’s for a really good cause and the people who participate are so awesome,” Heidenreich said. “Everyone has a reason and a story about why they are doing it. I could be talked into doing it again next year … pretty easily.”