Clayton, N.C. — Two Clayton firefighters are attempting to kayak nearly 200 miles of the Neuse River in less than one week to raise money and awareness for fallen and wounded firefighters and soldiers.
"A lot of those guys come back missing legs and arms," said kayaking firefighter Paul Zias. "I'm lucky enough to have mine, so I'm paddling down the river for them."
On Tuesday, Zias and Allen Williford were in the second day of their five-and-a-half-day journey from Falls Lake in Raleigh to New Bern.
"Everybody has chicken dinners. We just thought this would be different," Zias said.
Williford said he has paddled many parts of the Neuse River but never the whole thing.
"I've always wanted to do it," he said. "It's kind of like people wanting to hike the Appalachian Trail. I wanted to do the Neuse. What better way to raise money for somebody and get to do it?"
Firefighters are meeting them at points along the way to resupply them with food and water. But it's the thought of those injured in flames and battle that keeps them going.
"You're dirty. You're tired. You're missing your family, but it's nothing compared to what those guys are going through," Williford said.
He added that he hopes the story of their journey will inspire people to take positive action in the wake of tragedy.
"I hope this is part of being an American, being a human being, being a firefighter – hoping everyone has your back (and) having their back, too," Williford said. "Whatever form or shape it may take, paddling down a river, that's what we're here for."