Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Paddling legend returning to kayak

Burned in house fire, Starkell champing at bit

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Winnipeg paddling legend and author Don Starkell is vowing from his hospital bed that he'll be back in a kayak by summer.

Starkell, 78, who was hospitalized after suffering severe burns to his lower body and smoke inhalation when a fire broke out in his East Kildonan house on March 24, said his recovery is coming along so well he could be discharged as early as next week.

"I'm not looking for bravado, but I know damn well I've beaten another bullet," Starkell said on Wednesday from his room in the burn unit at the Health Sciences Centre.

"I'll be back in a kayak in a couple of months. That's what I love. I can walk and I even started jogging with the walker in the hall.

"I've got away with it again... I know I'm going to recover, but it will be a tough battle."

Starkell was rushed to hospital in critical condition after the fire broke out in his home, possibly from the wood stove he kept burning in his living room to heat his home.

He was upgraded to stable condition the next day, but family members said burns covered about 20 per cent of his body.

"My upper thigh and my shins have been badly, badly burned," Starkell said.

"It will take some recovering, but I will recover. And last night, I had my best sleep in two years."

It's not the first time Starkell has had to recover from injuries.

In 1990, while attempting to paddle through the Northwest Passage in a sea kayak, Starkell became stranded in the Arctic Ocean when winter arrived earlier than expected.

Rescue crews finally located Starkell, but the severe frostbite to his fingers and toes cost him parts of all of his fingers to be amputated.

He wrote a book about that experience, Paddle to the Arctic, as well as another book, Paddle to the Amazon, about his 23-month, 20,000-kilometre canoe trek to the Amazon in the 1980s with his son, Dana.

Starkell, who says the burns caused him to initially go through "living hell", praised the staff in the hospital for his care.

"They do one hell of a fine job," he said.

And Starkell is already planning one change to his house before he moves back in after the fire damage is fixed.

"I'm going to heat my house with a furnace," he said.

"I've always had gas in my house, but I just liked the idea of self preservation with heat. I wasn't burning fossil fuels. It also kept me fit moving wood around.

"When you're walking up and down stairs with firewood it means my legs are doing things no normal 78-year-old would be able to do."

 

kevin.rollason@freepress.mb.ca

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 15, 2010 B2

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