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Aptly-named Strugglers challenge themselves in Snow to Surf

By Colin Dowler
The Strugglers, from left to right: (back row) Josh Hertz, Ray Wilson, Rob Telford; (front row) Kyle Dempsey, Peter Ravensbergen, Joe Hertz, Colin Dowler, Emilie Poulin. Photo submitted

By Colin Dowler

Special to the Record

A year ago, during our COVID isolation, I came up with a silly idea: build a Snow to Surf team of survivors, strugglers, people who have overcome a significant unexpected hurtle in life.

The Royal LePage Snow to Surf is a Vancouver Island adventure relay race that starts in the alpine and ends in the sea. Our team was named “The Strugglers” to highlight the adversity we have overcome as individuals and to honour all others facing challenges as we all do. Life is a challenge, and we struggle on.

Here is a snapshot of the Strugglers in the Snow to Surf:

Josh, after tripping over a tent string and falling down a bank at age 18, broke his neck. After a surgery, a few screws, and wearing a cage on his head for months, at age 31 he pounded up the ski slopes and then raced down to complete the alpine skiing portion of the event.

Peter at age 63 took the baton from Josh and raced on. Possibly the fittest member of our team and definitely the oldest, Peter had a mid-life career change due to chronic back problems. A persistent physio routine for the last 15 years helped propel him through the cross-country skiing leg and pass off to our first runner.

Ray took off hobbling down the hill. A dominant athlete in his youth, 47-year-old Ray survived a serious quadding accident a few years back. He thanks his helmet for saving his life. While recovering from the multiple broken bones many of his old athletic injuries came back to haunt him. Ray passed off to me.

Like a bolt of lightning, I was passed by another team’s ringer. I continued the hobble on my misshapen legs that were modified during a grizzly bear attack three years ago, when I was 45. Thankful to still have two legs to run on, I ran through the boulders and puddles for this offroad leg of the race. I passed off to 44-year-old Rob.

Rob claims he has not had any serious injuries, just a couple of torn MCLs playing hockey. Rob rode his mountain bike to Comox Lake to complete his leg.

Kyle took off from there, paddling a crappy old kayak across the lake. Kyle survived a tick bite 12 years ago. He claims the bite wasn’t too bad, but Lyme disease was distressing. He was slowly dying for three years and then luckily recovering for another five. Still combating the issues, the 43-year-young Kyle paddled hard to our road racer.

James, 54, took off on his bicycle heading for the ocean with his case of cancer, nine broken ribs, and punctured lung in the rear-view mirror. He fearlessly advanced the relay to the ocean.

Peter, tough old dude that he is, ran our baton two kilometres from the end of the road race to our canoeists.

From here our eastern Canadian contingent took over. Joe, 62, from Ontario and 28-year-old Emilie from Quebec paddled into the wind. Joe was putting his reconstructed shoulder to the test after years of rehab from a workplace injury. Emilie with a workplace injury of her own was able to rest her injured ankle as she paddled on. Serving overseas in the Royal Canadian Navy, Emilie fell seven stories from a rooftop, a tree broke her fall on the way down and she miraculously survived.

We struggled to a 44th place overall finish of the 121 registered teams. We were seventh place in the Recreational Division and second in our category. Preparing for and competing in this race was a wonderful struggle.

Struggle on!