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High winds challenge ‘Canoe for Cancer’ crew

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Despite tired muscles, aching backs, and sun and wind-burned faces, the 27 participants in the “Canoe for Cancer” reunion sported big grins as they were welcomed home by bagpipe music and cheers Sunday afternoon.

The canoeists, ranging in age from 22 to 63, had paddled 53 miles over four days from Ottertail Rapids to La Place Rendez-Vous to raise money for the Canadian Cancer Society--and they earned every cent right from the start, co-organizer Nadine Johnson said.

“It was very challenging the first day,” she noted. “It was nerve-wracking--the waves were tremendous and we all struggled and struggled [to paddle].

“It was scary for some of them because not everyone was experienced [but] they were all good troopers and did very well,” she added.

High winds from Friday night’s storm also threatened to blow the crew’s tents away at Taylor’s Cove at Bear’s Pass, where owner Ed Taylor had offered them the beach area for the night.

And Sunday morning, the canoeists awoke to find waves crashing onto the beach at Lumberjack Point, where they had set up camp the day before at Gisele and Brian Calder’s cabin.

“We thought ‘Oh, my God, how are we going to get home?’” co-organizer Cheryl Behan admitted yesterday. “But we left anyway and went point to point, island to island.”

And in the end, the rough waters were no match for the determined group, leaving an air of achievement among them.

Luke Schill, 62, of here, who teamed up with Brian Love of Mine Centre for the trip, gave himself and his partner a pat on the back for a job well done.

“It’s been 10-15 years since I was on a trip like this so I think I held up very well,” said Schill, though admitting having spent about 40 hours over the last month training for the trek.

“And I called Brian ‘iron man’--he did all the steering,” he added.

“It was a lot of hard work but it was great,” enthused Christa McTaggart, who partnered up with friend Sharla MacKinnon. “And I was a beginner. I had never canoed like that before.”

MacKinnon termed the whole experience a “blast.”

“I was expecting to have a lot of fun and I did. I had so much fun,” she enthused.

Although MacKinnon admitted the windy conditions were difficult to handle, she tempered the experience with some sobering thoughts.

“It was definitely tough, that’s for sure, but I just kept thinking about why we were out there,” she reasoned. “Cancer has [struck] close to my family and all I kept thinking about was what they had to go through.

“What we did on Thursday was nothing compared to what people with cancer go through,” she stressed.

“Canoe for Cancer” veteran Mary Ellen Crowe and best friend Wendy Derendorf joined up with the rest of the canoeists Friday night at Taylor’s Cove. This was Crowe’s third time participating in the event but her first since undergoing cancer treatment herself.

“This trip held a lot more meaning for me, especially at the end when I saw all my family there--all of them pulling for me,” she reflected. “There were a few tears this time.”

“Doing all that together, it gave us [all] a real sense of accomplishment,” Behan agreed.

Preliminary figures indicate “Canoe for Cancer,” last held in 1991, will raise around $10,000 through pledges combined with proceeds from the raffle and social (which goes tonight at the Fort Frances Curling Club)--leaving Johnson very pleased.

“We definitely have $8,000 in pledges right now [and] I am pretty happy with that,” she said.

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