Remembering That Moment Brings Strength

By Frances Shook

I have always been told that I am strong, and that I am dealing with everything so well. I never really believed it until the moment I was walking in the pouring rain, on my 39th portage, around my 21st set of rapids, with a 50-pound canoe on my shoulders.

Only two weeks before, I was told that my intestinal blockage had not fully gone away. I was still nauseous and having stomach pains all the time. My doctors and parents questioned whether it was safe for me to go on a wilderness trip. But here I was, on a two-week canoe trip in northern Canada with eight other girls from Camp Ogichi Daa Kwe. I just prayed for the best.

Being born with a cleft lip and palate, a heart defect, a lazy eye, an intestinal blockage and kidneys in the wrong place has never defined me. Sure, when people look at me, they notice my lip, but they do not see anything else. No one would know that I have a heart defect. When I was younger, everyone just assumed I was not athletic and had a fast metabolism.

As a kid, it was hard to endure the stares and words of sympathy. As I have matured, I have come to realize that none of it matters. I may look different, and I have had to grow up more quickly than others, but I would not be half the person I am today if I had not been born with my particular challenges.

So there I was: a 5-foot, 103-pound person carrying a very unstable 50-pound canoe. It all started when we were unloading our canoes and gear at a portage trail and my friend Molly asked, “Hey, can I portage a canoe?” It made me think: Why shouldn’t I ask? Sure, I was super nauseous, but when would I get a chance to do this with some of my closest, most supportive friends? So I asked, “Can I portage a canoe, too?” There was silence, but then my friend spoke up. “Of course, just let me grab my GoPro!”

“Alright let’s do this! You ready? One, two, three and up!” my boat partner said while helping lift the canoe. Once I was standing with the canoe on my shoulders, everyone started cheering. But for me, the world went silent.

I thought about everything I had been through and everything I still had to take on. The doctors’ appointments, hospital stays, surgeries, and thoughts of not knowing what was next (and being scared of what was next) all washed away. Every step I took, one bad thing after another left me. I kept going. The rain, thunder and lightning did not slow me down. I was carrying this canoe for a reason, and so I kept going. Everything had led me to this point.

I have been through a lot, and am still going through a lot. But the next time I get news from the doctors that maybe I was not expecting, I will always remember the moment I carried that canoe on my shoulders. I am strong and determined. Whether it is good news or bad news, it is just a bump on the path. It will never hold me back.

This article was originally published in the Spring 2019 issue of Songs of the Paddle.

OgichiBen Woods