Nova Scotia

Cancer patient hits the off-road in fundraising effort

Marijke Nel has always loved taking on physical challenges. But taking on the challenges that came with her breast cancer diagnosis last year was a real eye opener for the Nova Scotia woman.

Marijke Nel, 51, has long loved physical challenges and is taking on a new one

Marijke Nel on a dirt bike training run near Bedford, N.S., on Wednesday. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

Marijke Nel has always loved taking on physical challenges.

But taking on the challenges that came with her breast cancer diagnosis last year was a real eye opener for the 51-year-old Dartmouth, N.S., woman.

"Right after my treatments started I wanted a road parallel to that to give me an opportunity to view it as a challenge and conquer small steps or obstacles on the way," said Nel.

She made the decision to try something new.

Nel with her dirt bike coach, Josh Kelly, who also has cancer. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

She is now ripping through gravel pits and beaten paths in the woods on a dirt bike preparing for the 2020 Promation Corduroy Enduro in Ontario.

The gruelling race is over 300 kilometres of rough terrain and she will be on the bike between five and six hours each day for two consecutive days.

"I don't think there would be a sport more perfect that would personify the cancer journey," said Nel, prior to a training run Wednesday on the outskirts of Bedford, N.S.

"It is such a sport of resilience, where you literally fall down all the time and get yourself into some really tricky and sticky situations."

Nel is an accomplished athlete who has excelled at many sports, including tennis. (Submitted by Marijke Nel)

Nel completed treatment last Christmas and continues with oncology followups. She has made the decision to use her own cancer experience for a fundraiser for the Canadian Cancer Society.

"What has motivated me to take this on was the deep gratitude towards those who have supported me through the battle with cancer and my desire to encourage other cancer fighters who may not be as fortunate to have that same kind of support," said Nel.

"Since my diagnosis I have been in the trenches with many who have fought bravely and still died."

Nel teaches tennis. Her students include those who use wheelchairs. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

Nel, a native of South Africa who moved to Canada in 2008, has always been an active athlete.

She is a five-time winner of the Nova Scotia Open women's tennis tournament and works as the technical director for Tennis Nova Scotia. She regularly teaches lessons, including those with wheelchair tennis players.

She also surfs and was a former rugby player with the South African women's national team.

Nel played rugby for the South African national women's team. (Submitted by Marijke Nel)

Nel has been working closely with the Nova Scotia Off Road Riders Association in her latest sporting endeavour. Her coach has been Josh Kelly, who recently found out he also has cancer.

"I first met Marijke last year toward the end of her chemo treatments," said Kelly, now battling non-Hodgkin lymphoma. "Marijke was right beside me there for the whole thing. I'm her dirt bike coach, but she's been my cancer coach and a real motivator for me to get through this."

Kelly is now going through his own chemotherapy treatments. While he's not hitting the road as hard as he used to, he said working with Nel is a great experience.

"It's been a pleasure to get out here and ride with Marijke and be a part of her journey."

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