Calgary Olympian stands up and paddles to raise funds for MS, Parkinson’s disease

Click to play video: 'Olympic champion takes on 22-kilometre paddling challenge for MS awareness' Olympic champion takes on 22-kilometre paddling challenge for MS awareness
WATCH: Olympic skeleton champion Duff Gibson paddled against the Bow River’s current Wednesday to raise awareness and funds for a group supporting neurological disorder treatment research. Joel Senick explains why he took on the challenge – Sep 5, 2018

Canadian Olympian Duff Gibson is used to facing challenges head on — he is a skeleton racer after all, but to help find new treatments for neurological conditions like multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s, he “stood up” on a paddleboard Wednesday.

“The reason I’m here today is ultimately because my wife was diagnosed with MS about three years ago,” said Gibson.

Gibson said the goal of his paddle down the Bow River is to help out the Branch Out Neurological Foundation, an organization dedicated to finding new approaches to treating MS patients like his wife, Jenn Gibson.

“It really speaks to my wife and because traditional funding streams tend to … heavily favour pharmaceutical research and there’s so much more that we’re missing by emphasizing the pharmaceutical side of things,” he said.  “The name ‘Branch Out’ comes from branching out from those traditional funding streams and that’s who we are raising funds and awareness for today.”

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READ MORE: Duff Gibson, fellow Olympians teach kids losing isn’t something to be feared

The foundation funds a variety of projects, from new technologies to new approaches to diet, he said.

“So it’s really interesting stuff and it’s very varied so what Branch Out does is provide research grants to further research in the field of neuroscience, so it’s not just MS, it’s not just Parkinson’s, it’s all neuroscience in general.”

Standup paddleboarding involves standing on a specially-designed board and paddling down a river or other body of water. Gibson said he likes this sport because it’s challenging and you can burn a lot of calories in the process. The water conditions are also part of the challenge, he said.

LISTEN: Duff Gibson joins The Morning News to discuss his fundraising efforts

“The challenge of this kind of paddle is to avoid the current as best you can … this time of year the water is pretty shallow, so you have a decreased flow rate but it means so you can’t paddle in certain spots and you have to carry the board,” he said. “And that’s the challenge, going back and forth trying to find the slowest water to paddle up against.”

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Gibson’s wife said she was proud of her husband’s effort in an interview after he completed the challenge. She was diagnosed with MS almost three years ago.

“I was telling him, I think I love him a bit more today than I ever have,” Jenn Gibson said.

“He really put himself out there today in the name of the Branch Out Foundation and to show his love for me.”

Gibson said he’s grateful for all the support he and his wife have received on this journey.

“I just want to say how wonderful it’s been for family and friends and complete strangers who reach out and support the paddle and make a donation and ultimately this is about spreading the word about Branch Out.”

People who wish to donate to Gibson’s fundraiser can do so at the Branch Out Neurological Foundation website.

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