Over the past few years, retired Waterloo Regional Police sergeant Pete Viol has raised around $100,000 for St. Mary’s Regional Cardiac Care Centre by walking and biking great lengths. But this year was different.
In August, Viol embarked on a 650 km journey from Port Severn to Ottawa on a solo canoe.
“This has been a different trip in terms of the physical impact,” he said, adding that all his previous trips were lower-body focused. “And this has been all upper body. It took a much different toll on me.”
The trip took him 28 days, during which time he met an electrical engineer who was operating an electric boat he made himself.
At some point he calculated that Viol would have made around 266,000 strokes paddling from Port Severn to Ottawa, travelling at about 6 km per hour.
“That's 133,000 strokes on each side. That takes a toll after 25 or 26 days,” he said.
Prior to this trip, Viol said he had some experience canoeing, but “virtually no experience” paddling a solo canoe.
He began preparing for the trip last fall with upper body weight training. In the early summer, he started practising paddling a solo canoe to get used to rowing.
But even with his preparations, the trip was challenging.
“What happens is that the rigours of three to four weeks of sleeping in a tent, and doing that kind of thing. You get used to it, but eventually it does start to wear on you. When I was approaching 25 or 26 days, I was starting to get really tired.”
Beyond the physical demands of paddling, his biggest adversary was the weather. The first week he was out, temperatures hovered around 30 degrees, leaving him with heat stroke.
Wind also became a problem, in some instances becoming strong enough to produce whitecaps.
“There were a couple of times when I was thinking, you know, I'm just not too sure about this. But then I thought, canoes can handle this. The question is, can the operator handle it?”
But he managed to stay on the water by keeping his canoe straight so as not to tip.
“When you get to the end, you’re very thankful you’ve made it across the lake.”
Viol’s dedication to raising money and awareness for cardiac health stems from his own heart wrenching experience. In 1983, his 20-year-old wife died of complications following a heart transplant.
“Women's heart health issues have by no means received the media attention that they deserve. More women are killed by heart disease than by anything else. People don't realize that more women die from heart disease than from breast cancer each year,” he said.
To date for this year's fundraiser, he has raised over $25,000 with the help of his two corporate sponsors, Transit Fuels and Katlyn, as well as public donations.
“Without the combination of those two, this sort of project would just not be possible. And so I very much appreciate all the support that I've had from both the corporate and the public side,” he said.
You can donate to his fundraiser here.