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Grandfather’s battle with Parkinson’s inspires Punxsy man to row for Fox Foundation

June 3, 2011

Michael Cherian (center), here with his parents Dr. George (right) and Lorraine Cherian, display the Team Fox banner before Michael began his journey for New Orleans via canoe May 29 in Harmar. (Photo courtesy of Michelle Cherian)

PUNXSUTAWNEY — It’s taken years of dreaming, about a year of planning and a few weeks of delays, but Michael Cherian has finally embarked on a two-month, 2,000-mile canoe journey that will take him to New Orleans.

Cherian, who is undertaking the canoe trip to benefit the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, launched his modified canoe — dubbed “Steady Eddie” — into the Allegheny River from a boat landing in Harmar.

This week, he rowed from the Allegheny to the Ohio River in Pittsburgh, which will take him to Cairo, Ill., the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers. From there, it’s on to New Orleans.

Some locations along the Mississippi will be densely populated, others will be hardly inhabited.

The canoe, which Cherian modified to carry equipment and serve as his living accommodations, bears the nickname of his grandfather, Edward H. Burrows, who died of Parkinson’s disease when Cherian was 13.

Years later, it was his grandfather’s battle with Parkinson’s that inspired Cherian to raise $5,000 for the Fox Foundation, which was established by former “Back to the Future,” “Family Ties” and “Spin City” star Michael J. Fox, who has been battling the disease since 1991 and disclosed his condition in 1998.

Cherian and the Punxsutawney Elks also hosted a wine and cheese tasting event in early May to benefit the Fox Foundation.

But the canoe trip is the high-mark of Cherian’s efforts, but it wasn’t a recent idea. He said he was first exposed to canoeing as a young child attending Pioneer Ranch Camp in Tionesta.

“This trip, I had just been thinking about it since I was eight years old, sitting in school one summer day, reading ‘Huck Finn’ and wanting to go down the river,” he said. “It’s been in the works a very long time.”

This past year, however, Cherian began thinking about how to plan the trip and how to modify a canoe to suit his needs for such a journey.
“I plan on sleeping on it,” he said last week. “If you’re going to be sleeping in a canoe, you want some stability.”

The modification of the canoe has evolved slowly, he said, but for just this trip.

“I don’t plan on taking it anywhere,” Cherian said. “I’m still talking about whether to bring it back, or if someone can pick me up.”

While he has all the necessary equipment — such as dry-packs, synthetic clothing, medical kits, mosquito nets and more — some of his concerns include “barges, things that I can’t see under the water, or things covered by water that would cause the boat to sink.”

Other concerns include mosquitos and waterborne illnesses caused by ingesting bad water.

Flooding along the banks of the Mississippi River in early May delayed Cherian’s launch.

“It’s still bad now, but it’s all toward the lower end of the Mississippi,” he said. “By the time I get there, it’s going to be fine.”
If the waters are still rough as Cherian continues, he said, “If anything is still bad, I have contact with my phone, NOAA radio and GPS. It’s not like I can’t extend the trip by a month. I’ll spend more time going slower. If it extends a month, basically, I’ll just have to sit there and float.”

Cherian said his goal for rowing is about 30 to 40 miles per day.
“I think 30 miles a day is a nice pace for where I’m going to be,” he said. “Thirty-two miles will get me there in 60 days.”

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