Traci Lynn Martin’s words are far from empty when she says, “Even if you have a chronic illness, you can still do the things you love in life.”
Despite painful rheumatoid arthritis accosting her joints, Martin has been paddling the Great Lakes in her kayak since March of last year.
Since then she’s paddled 3,600 miles and completely circumnavigated Lake Michigan, Superior and Huron. On October 15, 2017, when she pulled into Port Huron, Martin became the first person to circumnavigate the three largest North American lakes in one calendar year by kayak.
However, she didn’t stop there. Far from it. Martin plans to circumnavigate all five Great Lakes. When she last spoke with Great Lakes Boating magazine, she had past Niagara Falls and was about to continue on toward Lake Ontario.
In February 2015, Martin’s mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer which prompted her to take time off work so she could stay and help take care of her mother. Their last few months together before she passed away were precious to Martin and helped shape her decision to kayak the Great Lakes.
During that time, her mother spoke about regrets she had. There were many things in her life she had never gotten around to doing because she always thought she had time. One of the things Martin’s mother wanted was to learn to play the piano. She had bought herself a beautiful grand piano that sat in the living room for 10 years and she kept putting off learning until it was too late.
“Finally she was diagnosed with a terminal illness,” said Martin. “Finally she didn’t have any time left.”
Her mother never learned to play the piano.
Before she passed away, she told Martin if there was anything she wanted to do with her life, she mustn’t wait because you never know how long you have. This advice had an incredible impact on Martin.
After her mother died in June 2015, she began researching and planning her trip. Martin funded most of the trip herself, so it took two years to accumulate enough funds and to be able to get time off work at her job as a registered nurse in Kansas City, Mo.
Now Martin confidently moves forward in her journey with no regrets.
The message Martin is trying to get out to everyone is that even if you suffer from a chronic illness, you can’t let it stop you from living your life and doing the things you love.
Martin is a role model for those with chronic illnesses because of how she does not allow her rheumatoid arthritis to get in the way of pursuing her goal to paddle all the Great Lakes.
“There have been days I woke up and felt like I’d been hit by a train or beaten by someone with a baseball bat,” said Martin. “All my joints hurt, but I get up and I keep going.”
No matter your chronic illness, don’t let is stop you from living your life. Martin said you don’t have to paddle all the Great Lakes, but you can still do the small simple things in life that make it worth living. Things like going outside, taking the dog on a walk or even just sitting outside and painting. Do the things that make you happy and don’t let anything stop you.
Martin never expected to gain such a level of attention. She thought traveling the Great Lakes would be something she would do largely on her own.
“The amount of support I’ve received from strangers has just been phenomenal,” shared Martin. “It’s way, way beyond any expectation I ever had.” The staggering number of people who reach out to her through email, text and Facebook has come as a touching surprise.
There was one man who sent her an email saying he was out performing some sort of task that he didn’t think he could finish. In the moment of despair when he was about to give up, he remembered her and asked himself, “What would Traci do?” After thinking of her, he was able to get up and follow through with completing his task.
As Martin generates inspiration, she in turn is inspired by the people with whom she comes in contact.
After completely paddling the shoreline of the South Side of Lake Erie, she paddled up the Niagara River and pulled out before Niagara Falls where she would have to carry her boat over land around the Falls. According to Guinness World Records, nobody can help you if you have to portage your boat like this.
“You have to walk with your boat,” stated Martin. “You can’t have a vehicle helping you.”
She posted on Facebook that she was going to portage her boat for the 9-mile hike around Niagara Falls, and on the morning of the hike, over a dozen people showed up to walk with her.
As she pulled her kayak down the side streets, people drove by honking and cheering her on. The entire experience was emotionally charged for Martin because she didn’t expect that many people to know about her or care about what she was doing.
“God, a couple of times I wanted to cry,” shared Martin. “I had no idea that people would care like they have.”
A Typical Day
A typical day for Martin starts at 6 in the morning. By 7:30, she has eaten and dressed, so she makes her way to her kayak, a Stellar SR surf ski.
She makes sure all her electronics are fully charged and operating. She gets everything on her boat including flares, a radio, a backup blanket and warm clothes. Martin’s usually on the water between 8 and 8:30 am.
During the summer months when it was warmer, she could paddle until 9 or 10 at night. She would usually pull off around 1 pm and have her packed lunch. However, now in the winter months when it gets dark so early, she usually stops when the sun sets around 4 or 4:30.
“Once the sun starts to set, it gets so cold now that it’s unbearable,” said Martin, “especially with my rheumatoid arthritis.” It’s so incredibly cold that she doesn’t stop for lunch now because if she pulls off and stops paddling, she absolutely freezes.
Martin averages 20 miles a day in this colder weather, but back in the summer she averaged around 30 to 35 miles.
Once she pulls off the water for the night, she meets up with her support driver who follows her in a support truck with a trailer. They decide on a location beforehand so they both know where to go.
Then it’s just a matter of getting everything off the boat, drying everything off and recharging all her electronics.
Finally she eats dinner and gets back on social media to do updates and answer messages people have sent her. She tries to reply to everyone who contacts her.
Martin also tries to Face Time her children back home whenever she can. She has two boys, 12 and 15, and one daughter, 25, who have all been greatly supportive. During the summer, her two boys got to spend five weeks with her as she paddled the Great Lakes.
Her daughter has been married for several years and when Martin spoke with Great Lakes Boating magazine, she said that just the previous week her daughter had had a baby.
Congratulations to the new grandmother!
Martin’s support driver, Bill Noble, has been traveling with her for nine months now. Back when she was organizing her journey she was trying to piece drivers together so that one person could do a couple weeks, perhaps another could do another couple and so forth.
She accumulated a list of people who could help drive; however, Martin said it was a real blessing when Noble offered to do the entire trip. “I wanted to see her succeed,” said Noble. “She was in a jam and I was retired so I had the time.”
Since then, Martin and Noble have become close after spending nine months together on the road. “It’s been very consistent,” said Martin. “He knows what I like, I know what he likes and we’ve probably become best friends now.”
Call Of The Water
Before kayaking, canoeing was Martin’s first love. She went on her first canoe trip when she was around 10 or 11 years old and she has been in love with the water and camping along the shores ever since. This passion has been fueled on her kayaking trip of the Great Lakes.
During the warmer season while paddling in more remote areas like Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, the North Shore of Superior and the Georgian Bay and North Channel on Lake Huron, Martin has had countless opportunities to remote camp.
“I would say the North Shore of Lake Superior along the Canadian shoreline was probably the most beautiful of all the places,” said Martin.
This gorgeous area has waterfalls and relatively small islands made of rock with rock pools that fill up with water. Martin said when the sun shines down, it warms the water and you can go swimming in these pools, similar to a hot bath.
“It’s like a different world,” shared Martin. “You can soak in this water with Lake Superior all around you and the wind blowing and the waves crashing.”
The wildlife in the area is also abundant with all different kinds of birds. She added that the water is so clear that you can see the fish swimming under your boat.
Martin also described her time on Lake Michigan near Sand Dune National Park as an almost spiritual experience because of the peace she felt and all the beauty surrounding her as she paddled through the area.
Never Give Up
Precious moments like these help to keep Martin going even when she’s in pain from her rheumatoid arthritis. Even when she wakes up hurting and feeling weak and stiff, she knows that once she is out on the water again, she will feel better and it will all be worth it.
Martin stressed that the big thing she wants people to be aware of is that she’s doing this to try and show people with chronic illnesses to never give up. Her inspiring story has already helped many people not to give up on themselves. She truly leads by example.
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Traci Lynn Martin 5,800 Miles