Last spring, Renaissance invited RTOERO members to sign up for our Yes, You Can! Challenge. Tell us, we asked, about a lifestyle change you planned to work on in 2021, or a project you’ve had in the back of your mind but, life being what it is, haven’t tackled yet. We asked for challenges that fit into three categories — physical health or activity, personal growth or giving back to the community — and that the challenge be possible to accomplish in four months. The size or complexity wasn’t important. What was important was that your challenge be intentional, personal and tailored to you.
Meet six members from across Canada who are setting out to prove Yes, You Can! They each have a goal and a plan — will they be successful? We’ll check in with them in the Spring 2022 issue and share their challenge stories.
1. Ian Robertson
District 14 Niagara
Challenge: To finish building a 16-foot sailboat/rowboat with builder Skip Izon and complete a solo 1,300-kilometre loop of the Great Lakes via the Trent-Severn Waterway to fundraise for his favourite environmental organization, World Wildlife Fund Canada
The idea to build a new boat for a rowing and sailing trip started about four years ago, with a planned trip through the rivers and canals of Europe, and potentially down the Danube. This would have been largely a rowing trip, somewhat inspired by the Rowed Trip adventure of Julie and Colin Angus, but there would have been some parts where sailing would be far more effective.
Fast-forward to 2021 when, after recovering from health issues, I felt inspired to try again.
Due to the pandemic, I decided to plan a Canadian trip instead. I wanted a route that was long enough to be both challenging and interesting but safe enough to be done in a small boat. The boat design combines rowing and sailing, which is unusual in itself, and the oar mechanism allows me to row facing forward, so I’m not straining my neck. It will be a little wider than a canoe because of the sailing choice, be 16 feet long and weigh less than 100 pounds.
The most obvious trip, since I live near the shores of Lake Ontario, was a loop of the Great Lakes via the Trent-Severn Waterway.
And the Old Man in a Boat Tour (oldmaninaboattour.ca) was born. This trip is a personal challenge but also an opportunity to fundraise for World Wildlife Fund Canada, a wonderful organization I have been supporting for 30 years. I hope to raise $10,000, and I’ve pledged to match any sponsorship up to a total of $8,000.
My wife is 100 per cent supportive, although she is rightly concerned about issues such as safety. And I won’t rule out sending an SOS home and asking my daughter to bring a spare part or some supplies.
I expect the trip to take about two months. I’m camping and travelling really light. But if I get tired and dirty, I am going to allow myself the luxury of a bed and breakfast.
Am I nervous? I suppose. I think anyone who approached this and wasn’t nervous would be an idiot. It’s not that I feel it’s dangerous — it’s well within my capabilities. I’ve always sailed. I ran a sailing school in Hamilton many years ago. There are many uncertain factors, including my health, but I’m excited about getting out there and getting going.
2. Christine Inverarity
District 7 Windsor-Essex
Challenge: To exercise regularly and rebuild muscles that haven’t been used in a long time, thanks to six major surgeries
I have had so many surgeries: three spine surgeries, a right knee replacement and a right hip replacement. Then I retired and needed my left hip replaced.
So it has been one recovery after another. I was doing what I was supposed to do, and then COVID hit. I couldn’t go to the gym. I couldn’t see people. I felt my energy and my strength slipping away. Nothing seemed to motivate me.
But I have decided that COVID and retirement can’t be excuses.
My doctor just gave me a prescription to go to a physiotherapist who will be able to design an exercise program that takes my surgeries into account — exercises I can do without hurting my body. I’m going to take a fitness test, a way to measure where I am now, and then measure myself at the end of four months, or even in the middle, whenever I need motivation. I plan to schedule a specific time of day to work out. And I am going to set goals based on my body type and health, and the artificial joints and metal in my body.
I have equipment at my house I can use. I’m signing up for an online Pilates class, which will help build my muscles and strength.
I’m a little worried I’ll push myself too hard, too fast — I want to see changes yesterday! Can I build up my muscles in the proper timing? Can I not rush myself? Can I just have patience with what my body’s going to do as I rebuild it?
Success is going to be measured in the amount of energy I have and my ability to do the things I want to do, like playing pickleball.
I want to not just be present but ALIVE and THRIVING for my family and my three amazing grandgirls!
3. Jerzy “Smokey” Dymny
District 47 Vancouver Island
Challenge: To ride the hilly Quadra Island road loop on his bicycle twice (a total of 32.4 kilometres), non-stop, except for water refills
After having a life-threatening septic infection in my lower abdomen in the fall of 2020, I had to stop doing strenuous physical activity for months.
I had been a lifelong cyclist prior to my hernia operation, which is when I received my bonus septic infection.
I’m not just a cyclist. I’ve been a bicycle mechanic instructor for more than 20 years. I own Quadra Bike School (bicyclemechanic.ca) on Quadra Island, B.C., where I offer five-week bicycle mechanics courses four times a year, in the spring and fall.
So this was a disaster. It spoiled the whole fall. I couldn’t ride because my muscles and lungs were not up to par. When I did start riding, I realized, “Oh man, this is going to be harder than I thought.”
I needed a plan.
To begin with, I’m going to ride from my bike shop to either Heriot Bay or Quathiaski Cove, to one of our cafés, if the weather is not too wet. Then I’ll ride the route twice a week and then three times a week. When my strength is better, I’ll complete the 16.2-kilometre route once a day. Then I’ll do it one and a half times and, finally, do the whole ride — twice around.
It’s not easy. You start at sea level and ride up and down hills multiple times — down long hills, up short hills, down short hills, up long hills.
I miss going out into the woods and jumping around on my super-duper mountain bike and whipping around on the trails. I’m faster than people 15 years younger than me when I’m in shape. I want that back.
4. Barbara Chester
District 10 Bruce, Grey, Dufferin
Challenge: To become semi-fluent in American Sign Language
My great-granddaughter, Ellie, who turned five in February, was born with multiple physical challenges, including deafness. Ellie has been learning to sign since she was an infant. I want to be able to communicate with her, so I need to learn American Sign Language (ASL). And frankly, more people should know ASL because I think there are more deaf people in our communities than we’re really aware of.
When I want to reach a goal, I need to have a regimented plan to accomplish it. So I plan to dedicate an hour a day to learning ASL, at least five days a week. I’ll download apps and purchase books, and I’ll practise my skills with hearing-challenged people at every opportunity, including, of course, talking to Ellie.
I was feeling a little nervous, and then this morning I watched a couple of YouTube videos and I thought, “This isn’t so hard; I can do this.” A lot of the signs make sense. For example, pretend you’re wearing a ball cap and grab the rim of the cap: That’s the sign for “boy,” because boys wear caps. Any signs above the nose are masculine; feminine signs are below the nose.
I am confident I will learn enough to have a simple conversation with Ellie — and then I will continue, so we can really talk!
5. Uta Sojat
District 34 York Region
Challenge: To write her late mother’s memoir as a gift for her children and grandchildren
The idea of a book came from my son, who wanted his children to know more about his grandparents and the other relatives he had heard about. “We don’t really know who these people are,” he told me. “We know they’re there, but we don’t really know them.”
My plan is to write down stories my mother told me about her youth; establish a family tree so my children will know who is who; collect vital data on the most important people in my mother’s life; write about her later life from my own recollections; and then compile everything into a coherent story and have it bound.
I don’t yet have my mother’s personal papers, things she saved through her life, from my dad’s life, her birth certificate, marriage certificate. When she died, we cleaned out her house in Hamburg, Germany, and I drove boxes of anything important to Croatia — my husband has a big family there, and we can store things. We haven’t been able to go over because of COVID, so I haven’t been able to bring back my mother’s personal folder.
It has been very difficult to get my parents’ history. I found some details in the parish records in the village she grew up in. I have great memories of that village because I visited as a child. It was so close to Hamburg, where we lived, and we went every year until the border was closed. Before I could tell my mother’s story, I had to learn more about the Second World War. My parents didn’t really talk about it.
Dates when Hamburg was bombed, for example, helped me understand a photo of my parents in another city. I never knew why they were there until I realized they’d been evacuated when most of Hamburg was destroyed by a firestorm.
I’ve written before, and I like to write. I write every day in the morning, before lunch, for a couple of hours. Once I start, I’m in a flow and it’s not a chore.
You need to write every day. If you don’t, then you get in a rut, and you say, “Oh, I can do it tomorrow.” And then tomorrow comes, and you have something else to do. And then, “Oh, well — next day, next day, next week.”
If you start something, stay with it and finish it, or don’t start it. If I don’t have the enthusiasm for something, then I will not stay with it because it’s not what I really like to do. And at this point in my life, I’m free to do what I like to do.
6. Andrée Boudreau
District 4 Sudbury, Manitoulin
Challenge: To lose 25 pounds and get herself back into shape
I had lost 35 pounds before the pandemic hit, and I was diagnosed with breast cancer in March 2020. I had such nausea that I allowed myself to eat whatever calmed my stomach. I gained all the weight back. Now I am cancer-free, and after everything I went through, I owe it to myself to be fully healthy.
I want to regain my strength. I am tired and I am weak. When you survive cancer, every day is a new day. I wake up every day with a positive outlook.
I will follow my diet plan. I will do a form of physical activity, including cardio, every day. I will do strength training to regain muscle tone. The radiation has left me very tired, so rest will also be part of my daily routine.
I know I can do this.
I didn’t even realize I had put on that much weight. The weight seemed to creep on over the past three or four years since I retired.
I’ve already lost 15 pounds, but I’m at that frustration point.
But, as I said, every day is a brand new day. And it’s such a joy to be able to live this life because of the treatments I went through, and I am really motivated by that. My husband’s on board with my regimen as well, so the fact that he’s with me motivates me too.
Part 2 Challenge Update
Don’t miss the Spring 2022 issue of Renaissance, as our challengers share their journeys and the outcomes!