USF siblings row to raise funds for horse therapy farm

Siblings Shannon and Matt Casey began rowing as a form of exercise when they were in high school.

Last Wednesday, the two used their skills to fundraise for the non-profit organization Quantum Leap Farms, a farm founded in 2000 and located in Odessa, which utilizes horses as a form of therapeutic rehabilitation for individuals with injuries or disabilities.

Shannon and Matt took turns on a rowing machine for 21 hours straight in downtown Tampa, and over the course of the event were able to raise about $1,700, according to Quantum Leap Farms founder and operations director Edie Dopking. Dopking said the donation letters are continuing to come in, making the total raised by the siblings more than $2,000.

“Our goal was to do 26 hours,” Shannon said. “We ended up finishing after 21 hours just out of pure exhaustion — mentally and physically. The people at Quantum Leap Farms were so sweet about it.”

The idea for the specific goal of 26.2 hours came from Shannon’s previous record in running, having recently completed a 26.2-mile marathon.

Shannon, a junior majoring in biomedical sciences, said the idea for the fundraiser came to her and her brother about a year ago after friends from their high school completed a similar fundraiser that lasted 24 hours.

Since making the decision to set a record, the two decided to make the event a fundraiser that would take place after Matt’s graduation. He received two degrees from the College of Business earlier this month — one in accounting, and another in finance.

“I never really had the chance to spend two days to just row,” Matt said. “Which is what we had to do — we had to set the time out to do that. After graduation, I had a lot more free time, and so did Shannon.”

Shannon said she learned about Quantum Leap Farms her sophomore year of high school, when she became a volunteer at the organization.

“The farm has had such a profound impact on my life,” Shannon said. “Just going there — the people — I can’t speak highly enough of the individuals that work there and volunteer there, and their love for the community and their love for helping individuals out, it’s just so immense and I respect the people that work there so much.”

Shannon said when she first began volunteering at the farm she was terrified because she had never been around horses before. Soon after beginning her volunteer work, she found guidance from the other volunteers and became more comfortable.

“These people know so much about the horses and how to utilize them for therapy, and they really help you along the way,” Shannon said. “(Quantum Leap Farms reaches) so many individuals. They have events that help children who have cancer; they have events for veterans who have lost limbs in combat. Seriously, their programs help so many different individuals from all walks of life.”

Before volunteering at Quantum Leap Farms, Matt said he worked as a volunteer at a retirement community in the Tampa area. While there, Matt met World War II veterans who were able to raise successful families once they returned home.

“What Quantum Leap Farms does is they do a lot of work with mentally and physically disabled veterans,” Matt said. “And the work that they do, it helps (veterans) get back on their feet, metaphorically speaking, and it allows them to kind of get their lives back in order so that they can eventually live their lives like the people I met at the retirement community.”Shannon said she told her brother about the farm, and after visiting the location, the two agreed that it was the charity they wanted to support.

“He fell in love with them too, and so he believed me when I said that it was a good charity to pick,” Shannon said.

The event was held on Franklin Street in downtown Tampa.

Shannon and Matt were offered the sidewalk space outside of the Element apartment complex to host their fundraiser, and as they alternated on the rowing machine, volunteers from Quantum Leap Farms were present to explain to passers-by what they were doing.

“People were making donations throughout the day, even throughout the night, because the location we were at, there was a bar opening up next door and it was their opening night,” Shannon said. “People who were talking to us were probably getting drinks, and it was keeping us pretty entertained.”

Matt said that though both he and his sister did very well, because of health reasons they decided to end the fundraiser early.

“It was physically exhausting,” Matt said. “I ended up getting back problems probably about halfway though. … We were getting nauseous and our father decided that we weren’t going to compromise our health. Although it was a great event and a great cause, it got pretty bad for health reasons and we didn’t want to go any further.”

Prior to the event, Shannon said the longest she and her brother had rowed was an hour, occasionally reaching longer times. The two prepared for the day through cardio and strength training, which mostly took place at the USF Campus Recreation Center.“I really think there was no way to prepare ourselves for it,” Shannon said. “We could’ve said, ‘Oh yeah, these hour paces are really going to help us,’ but it was all pretty much mental. I guess the only thing I can compare it to would be running a marathon, but about half way through I was like, ‘I would rather run three marathons as this point.’”

Dopking visited the siblings during the fundraiser to support their efforts, and said they both rode through the night and it was “pretty amazing” to watch.“We were thrilled to death that they would choose to do something like that,” Dopking said. “Matt actually told me that he was doing it to celebrate his graduation, and lord knows there’s a whole lot of other things he could’ve done to celebrate his graduation, but this was what he chose. So I’ve got to say that both of those kids have so much integrity and so much heart, it’s just hard not to be forever-fans of theirs.”

“You reach a point where you’re kind of looking at each other and your faces are so pale, and you’re nauseous, and you’re in so much pain and you’re like, ‘why am I doing this?’” Shannon said. “But it was definitely worth it. I don’t know if I would go back for the 26 hours, it’s pretty intense, and if I would do things differently, I think I would’ve got more rest beforehand.”Having felt that he underestimated what the experience would be like due to the Florida heat and long timespan of the task, Matt said he isn’t sure if he would try to complete the record again. Regardless, he said he was happy with the result.

“We didn’t make the 26 hours, but the fact that we did make 21 hours and we raised so much money and we did spread awareness for the cause and the farm itself, I really think we accomplished the goal that we set out to do,” Matt said.

Dopking said the money fundraised by Shannon and Matt will go toward assisting those who use the farm’s services who are unable to cover the costs of the experience.