WHITEHORSE, Yukon - Amidst the flurry of splashing and jostling for
position around their boats, teams vied to get out of the harbor and into
the open waters.
At a more casual pace, the 10-person team comprised of officers from the
Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) Yukon Division meticulously boarded
the war canoe for their planned four-day journey. There was even time for
photographs, all the while the clock was ticking.
"When the race will be 80 hours, the first two minutes aren't that
important," said Corporal Tony Park prior to the start of the 6th annual
Yukon River Quest.
This was the inaugural entry for the local Mounties in what is the world's
longest marathon canoe and kayak race. On June 23, starting in Whitehorse,
more than 50 boats paddled their way 747 kilometers (465 miles) to Dawson
The police used this highly-publicized event to raise funds for the
diabetes education center at Whitehorse General Hospital, a building
adjacent to the race's starting line. Many of the center's patients are
Native and the education component ties into the First Nations' Health
"We realize that diabetes awareness and education hasn't got a lot of
funding in the Yukon. This year we chose diabetes because other causes get
quite a bit of publicity," said Park who is also the Aboriginal liaison for
Half of the team members were First Nations themselves, including one woman
in the group. Each individual was responsible for raising money and the
goal was to collect $5,000 (Cdn.)
Constable Rick Aird, from the Saulteau First Nation in Northeastern British
Columbia, knows the effects diabetes can have as the disease is in his
family. While he's always been cognizant of diet and exercise, he believes
it's vital to publicly show these practices.
"We felt pulling (the canoe) like this and planning good meals, we're
demonstrating first hand the importance of proper nutrition and a balanced
lifestyle," Aird said before the team performed a ceremonial smudge.
Like other reserves in remote areas, those Aboriginals living outside of
Whitehorse face the challenges of long drives to the territory's capital
(population 22,000) for regular health care. Diet is also a concern with
prohibitive food prices due to shipping costs to cover vast distances
Traditional diet coordinator at the First Nations Health Program, Laura
Salmon, agreed that general diabetes information is applicable to everyone.
A team effort between the patient and medical staff is more effective in
both the prevention and treatment of the disease than just healing oneself.
"Diabetes is progressive and that requires tight management for some
people," Salmon said. "If they can't get the education, they can't be able
to care for themselves as well."
Back on the boat, spending four days on the river with only one mandatory
sleep stop, the preparations for this race needed to be meticulous. From
what to eat, to how much to bring and how to conserve energy (as some
members snooze, others continued pulling) were some of the finite details
required to make this journey enjoyable without being eventful.
Park described how the teamwork of this trip was symbolic of living with
"You have to plan your diet, exercise and rest," Park noted.