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Personal experience at heart of ‘Canoe for Cancer’ trek

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When Nadine Johnson of Fort Frances took to the water 15 summers ago to paddle 53 miles in a canoe, it wasn’t for her health.

Johnson, who was just 20 at the time, did it for her mother and the hundreds of other people facing a personal battle with cancer.

“My mother was very sick [with cancer] and we were really a close family,” Johnson said. “I wanted to organize the fundraiser to make her feel good.

“She had such a great respect for the environment and loved the land and I thought this trip was a wonderful way to show her how much I loved her,” she added.

“She was there in her wheelchair to watch us at the finish of the trip [and] she died a week or two later,” Johnson continued. “I think God made her hang on ’til we came home.”

In that inaugural “Canoe for Cancer” trek, Johnson and 35 other canoeists raised some $3,500 for the Canadian Cancer Society. Over the next seven years, the annual trek brought in close to $12,000 altogether.

Now after an eight-year lull, Johnson, a handful of other “Canoe for Cancer” veterans, and some newcomers plan to rekindle the fundraiser June 24-27.

“The reason [behind] this is still strong,” argued Johnson, who hasn’t lost her desire to make a positive difference. “People say there’s never gonna be a [cancer] cure but I believe it’s coming.”

Mary Ellen Crowe, a two-time veteran of “Canoe for Cancer,” said her participation will hold special meaning this year. For an 11-month period starting in December, 1997, she underwent surgeries, chemotherapy, and radiation treatments for cancer.

“On the first two trips, cancer hadn’t affected anyone in my family and now my mom has had breast cancer, I’ve had cancer, and my brother-in-law passed away from colon cancer,” said Crowe, 38, who already has raised $600 in pledges.

“Now I really understand what a worthwhile thing this [trip] is to do,” she added.

The number of newcomers to the event has exceeded expectations, said co-organizer and “Canoe for Cancer” veteran Cheryl Behan, adding the number of participants is now capped at about 30.

Participants and their gear will be taken by bus on the morning of June 24 to Ottertail Rapids on Turtle River Road. The four-day, three-night journey entails a quick portage at Sand Island Falls, down the river into Red Gut Bay, along Baseline Bay into Swell Bay, and then across Sand Bay to La Place Rendez-Vous here.

A safety boat will accompany the canoeists along the way.

“For my partner and I, this trip gives us a sense of accomplishment to be able to paddle that distance and to help raise funds for the Cancer Society,” said Crowe.

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