Author, Guiness Book of World Records holder, father, paddler, and Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame inductee Don Starkell passed away on January 28th at the age of 79. He had been suffering from cancer.
Starkell is probably best known for his World Record two-year and 20,000-kilometer canoe trip from Winnipeg, MB, to Belém, Brazil. Don and his sons Dana and Jeff set out on June 1, 1980. Although only Don and Dana finished the journey, they arrived in Belém on May 2, 1982 after surviving alligators, piranhas, drug smugglers, pirates, food poisoning, hurricanes, and their own personal relationship issues. The trip is documented through Starkell’s first book “Paddle to the Amazon,” and still holds the record for the longest trip ever made by canoe.
He was not quite as fortunate on his second big trip, departing in 1990 for a solo kayak trip tracing The Northwest Passage. This 5,000-kilometer paddling trip took three years and cost Starkell the tips of every finger and some toes to frostbite. His book “Paddle to the Arctic” documents the journey.
Growing up in Winnipeg, MB, Starkell suffered at the hands of an abusive father and lived in an orphanage for almost five years until being adopted into a foster family. He took up canoeing in his teens, gaining the sense of freedom and confidence he would carry with him the rest of his life, and by the time he was 17 he was named the Most Outstanding Novice at the Kildonan Canoe Club. He went on to compete professionally.
In 2006 Starkell was inducted into the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame and Museum. In 2010 he was badly injured with burns to his legs and smoke inhalation when his home caught fire. However, he fought back from these setbacks as he had many times before.
Documentary filmmaker Chris Forde is currently producing a documentary about Starkell and his famous father-son journey in a film with the same name as the book, “Paddle to the Amazon.”