Martha Reben was the author of The Healing Woods in which she described her experiences camping on the shore of Weller Pond eight miles from Saranac Lake in 1931 in her effort to cure herself of tuberculosis.
Reben grew up in New York City. When she was six her mother died of tuberculosis. When she, too, became ill in 1927 she was sent to “cure” in Saranac Lake where Dr. Edward Livingston Trudeau was experiencing considerable success treating the disease.
However, after three operations failed to heal her, she determined a new course of action and spent the next six years living from the spring through the fall in a tent on the pond. During her time with nature, Reben developed a spirituality imbued with fortitude, self-reliance and tranquility. Her disease slowly improved, and she lived to age 58, cured of tuberculosis.
The same higher power Reben experienced through her connection with nature is now enjoyed by a growing number of St. Joseph’s staff and residents through the agency’s canoeing program.
St. Joseph’s first became involved with paddling over a decade ago when a single team entered the 90 Miler, the three-day, flat water race canoe race that follows the original highways of the Adirondacks from Old Forge to Saranac Lake.
At that time, the participants consisted of a small group of clinicians and administrators, and just one driver to provide support. Today, well over a dozen staff, and importantly, several Veteran residents, compete from early spring through until September. And while the sport is physically demanding, many of St. Joseph’s participants also enjoy paddling’s spiritual nature.
“It’s all about placing your focus on the present moment and focusing only on what’s in front of you; canoeing can teach you a lot about yourself,” shares Veterans Program Maintenance Specialist, Joe Munn. “At the end of the day it all comes down to you working on becoming the best version of you and enjoying the process along the way.”
This past Saturday the 2019 canoe season began with the ‘Round the Mountain canoe, kayak and SUP race from Ampersand Bay on Lower Saranac Lake to the Lake Flower boat launch. And, I am pleased to write that the St. Joseph’s canoe crewed by Joe; Head Cook, Aaron Mozdzier; Counselor, Megan Glennon-Munn; and PAT Counselor, Lenore Marcuson took first place in their classification.
PAT Assistant, Ross Manny and three Veterans competed as well and placed second in their class.
Medical Director, Dr. Hector Biaggi, also participated in a two man canoe with a Veteran resident. “Canoeing Is definitely a team-building exercise,” he shares. “And it fosters getting to know each other in a totally different setting.” When asked about the sport’s spiritual nature, he answers, “When surrounded by such beauty, one believes there’s definitely a higher power. While paddling we were constantly surrounded by life. Water is essential for life, where it all begins. You can’t have life without water. It cleans your body and spirit.”
As Veteran Wesley D. added after last year’s 90-Miler, “The 90 Miler was a completely new experience. “It was amazing. Especially when you consider where I was nine months ago when I could barely get off my couch to now paddle 90 miles. It shows my progress since coming here (to St. Joseph’s).”
St. Joseph’s season continues with the next event, the Tupper Lake 8-Miler on Saturday, June 29.
We welcome new participants in our canoeing program, and I invite any staff member interested to contact Joe Munn or Aaron Mozdzier.