Northwest NEWS

May 15, 2000


Taking back her potential


Andrea MacLennan kayaks on Puget Sound.

by Deborah Stone, features writer

   On May 18th, Andrea MacLennan will depart Seattle to begin a journey of over 200 miles by kayak through Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands to Victoria, up to Nanaimo, and on to her hometown in Vancouver, B.C.

   For MacLennan, the expedition is about much more than going home by kayak. Andrea, age 24, was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis three years ago.

   Her mission, which she calls "Making Waves for MS," has several purposes, including raising money to provide programs and services for people with MS and their families, and for research to discover a cure for this disease. She also hopes to heighten awareness that MS often strikes young people, as well as middle-aged and older, and to teach by example that having MS does not always lead to tragedy and can bring triumph.

   MacLennan grew up in Vancouver, B.C., but moved to the Eastside area and lived on English Hill while attending Lake Washington High School. She learned to kayak at the age of fourteen at a teen camp on Orcas Island and her passion for adventure took her on kayak trips through the San Juan Islands and into the Sea of Cortez in Baja, Mexico.

   For Andrea, kayaking allows her to be in touch with the environment. She says, "It's as close as you can get to nature and it's so peaceful. Actually, it's very meditative."

   While a student in environmental studies at the UW, she learned she had MS. "I knew I didn't want to be seen as a tragedy," explains MacLennan. "I also knew I needed to make some changes in my life. I quit the U. and took time off to go to England, where I lived in a village of 450 people while studying coastal geomorphology with my uncle. When I returned, I enrolled in Evergreen State College and finished with a Bachelors in environmental studies, specializing in coastal ecology."

   Andrea has been in remission for the past two years and feels very confident in managing her MS, which she says is the result of taking a medicine called Copaxone. The disease hasn't stopped her or slowed down her activity level, but it has made her very aware of the numbers of young people living with MS, who are not in a wheelchair.

   The idea to do a multipurpose expedition came to her about a year ago and she has been working nonstop to make it become reality. Accompanying Andrea will be four other paddlers who are her close friends. They will be using one double kayak and three single kayaks during their approximate two-to-three-week trip. Much of the equipment the group will use has been donated from companies in the paddling business.

   According to MacLennan, there will be several challenges to face, as the route to Vancouver can be rough. She says, "It can be rough through the Rosario Strait, Deception Pass, and Discover Island areas, because the current is strong there. The weather will play a big part in how rough the water will be. We plan to paddle about five hours a day, which is about fifteen miles, but on some days, it will be longer."

   Andrea has been training for the journey, but feels she is in good shape from the many years she was a gymnast. She is also a strong swimmer and is familiar with kayaking through the San Juans. The Gulf Islands will be new territory for her, but she relishes the challenge.

   "I am really looking forward to this trip for so many reasons," comments MacLennan. "It will be a wonderful vacation for me and I know the scenery will be great. I'm a nature lover and I expect to see whales and all different kinds of wildlife while on the water. It is also so important to me personally to do this trip, because it will allow me to symbolically take back my potential."

   To date, "Making Waves for MS" has raised over $3,000 in individual donations, plus another several thousand from TevaMarion Partners, the manufacturer of Copaxone, who is sponsoring part of the project.

   Andrea expects to arrive at Jericho Beach in Vancouver, B.C. on June 4th. She says, "We'll have a big party and toast to our success."

   The public can support Andrea, "Making Waves for MS," and the Multiple Sclerosis Association with corporate contributions of money and/or equipment, by pledging so much for each mile she travels, or by contributing a flat dollar amount and sending cash, checks, or using Visa or MasterCard to: Multiple Sclerosis Association of King County; 753 North 35th, Suite 208; Seattle, WA 98103.