INSPIRED Senior Living Magazine December 2016

Page 26

True Grit

Not Your Average

Alaskan Cruise

The Sistership crew begin their journey. BY LAUREN P. MACLELLAN


boat cruise to Alaska is a dream many aspire to take, fantasizing about calm seas and glacial relaxation. The members of Team Sistership had a different Alaskan tour in mind, “Four Women Over 50, Racing to Alaska. 750 Miles. No Motor. No Support. No Kidding.” They weren’t just out to enjoy nature; they aimed at becoming a force of nature themselves. The idea of Team Sistership began with Michelle Boroski (the captain) and her partner Johanna Gabbard (organization and admin) in the quiet town of Port Townsend, Washington. The idea of a challenge was far from foreign for either woman. Johanna, a former collegiate basketball player, triathlete-turned-cyclist and retired Army Colonel, had discipline in spades, alongside Michelle, who holds a 100-Ton Master Captain License and delivers boats throughout the Pacific, Caribbean, and Great Lakes, including trips to and from Hawaii and the Panama Canal. The Race to Alaska was barely a year old when Michelle, a sailor since the age of 12, decided there was an opportunity to make a statement; “Our mission has been to empower women of our age as well as young girls.” They chose Sistership as a team name because it embodies their supportive code to uplift all women. In the end, they were not the only team with age-defying themes on their mind. Other smile-worthy monikers included: “A Pirate Looks at 30”; “Later Dudes”; “Why Not”; and “Golden Oldies.” So began a simple Facebook post, searching for women over 50 with sailing experience, eager to kick some ass. A message that immediately caught the attention of Victoria native, doctor and former world champion rower Janice Mason. “I was very interested in the race to Alaska, I even followed along last year,” says Janice. She immediately messaged them, with one hell of a resume: completed first Ironman triathlon at 54, Olympic rower, won Gold for Canada at the World Rowing Championships in 1987 and Bronze in 1982. However, even with all her on-the-water experience, Janice was told by Michelle she was interested, but they “didn’t want a fourth person without much sailing experience.” 26 24


Instead of this initial contact inspiring bitterness or a splurge on a ticket to a more relaxing Alaskan adventure, Janice describes how instead “I went to UVic for some sailing lessons and, in February, I went to Port Townsend and met them. They were sailing Sistership for the first time in the Shipride Regatta.” Persistence, as it so often does, paid off. The team went through several evolutions, losing and gaining members. It wasn’t until Janice left for a vacation to Mexico that she received her invitation to Alaska. Life has a sense of irony when it comes to timing. During the turbulent shuffle of the team roster, Sherry Smith joined the team. A 10-year sailboat racing vet with over 10,000 miles of ocean on her resume, Sherry also has innumerable miles around the world from participating in triathlons, including Ironmans in Germany and Canada. In a trick of fate, Johanna also came aboard after health concerns of a previous member caused her to leave. Janice admits the humour behind such a twist, “She had been doing all the organizing and admin stuff and she didn’t have much sailing experience, either, so at the end of the day, Michelle ended up with two inexperienced sailors, anyway.” Dispel any expectations of training montages or a drill sergeant coach yelling as they lifted weights in a torrential downpour. When it came to Team Sistership, their lifestyles provided a constant training ground, preparing them more thoroughly than any short intensive push before the big race. In addition to the numerous triathlons under the team’s collective belt, it was the smaller everyday activities that honed their tenacity. Janice describes constantly keeping active with swimming, sailing and cycling, while Sherry is a certified coach to young triathletes at Stanford University. Their shared passion for keeping healthy activity a constant force in their lives was their biggest asset. Janice, however, makes it clear it was not simply the triathlons that kept her fit, but a fearlessness to constantly try new things; “A big part of it is a sense of adventure.” Having taught herself to unicycle at age 41, she reveals the process of starting by going from post to post at a local tennis court. Using interval supports allowed her to go farther and farther without


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