Jean-François Daigle was out for a paddle when he thought of an idea to help his cousin fight cancer.
The Grande-Digue man envisioned a long-distance paddleboard journey from the Confederation Bridge, to raise funds to cover medical expenses. At first he thought of ending at his home, about 60 kilometres away.
Next, he considered going to Baie-Sainte-Anne, where his family is from. But the 34-year-old wanted a bigger challenge.
"Then you're thinking, well what Sam's going through — that doesn't seem like enough," Daigle said. "So I started thinking of other distances."
Early Friday morning, Daigle will embark on a 350-kilometre trek that will take him to Miscou Island at the tip of the Acadian Peninsula. He'll be spending six to ten hours paddling the ocean per day, covering about 42 kilometres at a time.
Samuel Thériault, his 14-year-old cousin, was diagnosed with bone cancer in November 2019. He has since had a leg amputated and his treatment — which is going well — is expected to end mid-August.
As the COVID-19 pandemic hit, his cousin was frequently on his mind.
"You're thinking of how a 14-year-old with cancer, who's the person most at risk, when they're talking about isolation — how he's doing," Daigle said.
As part of his recovery, Thériault will learn how to walk with a prosthetic leg. The costs are high and aren't covered by insurance. He also has to travel frequently to Halifax for treatments.
That's why Daigle has set a goal of raising $25,000 to $35,000 for the family with a GoFundMe campaign.
On the eve of his journey, he's already raised more than $15,000 to cover medical and transportation costs.
'How is this possible?'
As soon as the ice disappeared this spring, Daigle was back on the water paddling as a way to de–stress and get outside during the pandemic.
He was looking for a creative fundraiser to help the family cover medical costs. Getting people together was out of the question with the pandemic restricting gatherings. So Daigle turned to what he knew best: paddleboarding.
After talking to friends and family, he decided to commit to the journey about a week ago. The reaction to paddling more than 300 kilometres was mixed at first.
"At first, definitely a lot of blank looks, 'How is this possible?', then 'Why are you doing this?'." he said.
"People started realizing I was going to go forward with it one way or the other."
More than a week of paddling
Daigle's supporters got together to start a committee that has helped plan his trek. They'll be forming the support crew that accompanies him in small boats to watch out for his safety.
He has been preparing with 50-kilometre test runs between his home in Grande-Digue and the Confederation Bridge.
The journey will take anywhere from seven to ten days, depending on weather conditions. Daigle will be bringing food and water with him on the board, stopping along the shoreline to sleep at night.
The big challenges will be battling large waves and the hot sun on the open water.
Members of the public who would like to support the trek are invited to join on kayaks or paddle boards at any of the stopping points. The trip schedule is on Daigle's Facebook page.
Thériault has yet to give paddleboarding a try himself. But his older cousin hopes that will happen one day.
"If all this goes well, including his battle, he can conquer that too," Daigle said.