Valley Lives - Lucy Slade

The following article first appeared in "The Low Down to Hull and Back News" in the April 13, 2011 issue. Reprinted with permission.

Chelsea paddler made it to the world stage

by Trevor Greenway

The photo appears staged. Lucy Slade bends down from the podium at the Pan American Games in Cuba and busses Fidel Castro on the cheek. The former Cuban leader had just awarded Slade a silver medal in paddling at the 1991 international competition.

Valley Lives
Lucy Slade kisses former Cuban leader Fidel Castro after he hands her a silver medal at the 1991 Pan American Games. The photo appeared in the Toronto Star. Photo courtesy Andy Ball.

But the moment - captured by a Toronto Star photographer - was spontaneous and typical of the confident, but humble athlete. Nearly 20 years later - on Jan. 14, 2011 - the accomplished Cascades Club paddler and Chelsea resident passed away after a short battle with cancer. Slade was 38.

She leaves behind her partner, Andy Ball, and their two sons, eight-year-old Quinn and six-year-old Adrian.

"There's no rhyme or reason for it," says Ball. "She was probably the fittest person that most people know."

He remembers when they went cross-country skiing together for the first time. It was in 1999 - long after Slade retired from her 10-year paddling career - and by then she had also completed a 55-kilometre race in the Gatineau Loppet.

"I said, 'How did you do?'" Ball remembers asking, after Slade left behind him in her tracks. "She said, 'In men's or women's?' "

Slade, a member of the Rideau Canoe Club in Ottawa, topped the podium at national championships - including a gold medal in the 1991 Canada Games in Saskatoon. She retired a year later and focused on other sports like biking and skiing and moved to Chelsea in the late 1990s.

"She was so determined, but there was no arrogance about her," says Julie Beaulieu, head paddling coach at Cascades. Beaulieu first encountered Slade at a regatta and the two eventually coached at the Cascades Club, where Slade helped develop the youth paddling program.

Valley Lives
Whether it was hiking, biking or cross-country skiing, Lucy Slade loved the outdoors. The Chelsea resident stayed in top shape long after she retired from her 1O-year paddling career. Photo courtesy Andy Ball.

"She didn't speak very often, but when she did, the team knew it was important," says friend and fellow Cascades member, Bonnie Pankiw.

Pankiw has Slade to thank for her decision to move to Chelsea three years ago. Slade jumped on top of the van and looked over the tree line to the Gatineau River.

"Yeah, I can see the water from here," Slade said. "You should buy the property." Slade was also a teacher at Chelsea Elementary School.

Principal Ralph Mason says her "calm, cool and efficient" manner had an impact on her brief, year-long stint at the school.

But her best role was that of a mother.

Not one to idle or waste time, Slade always engaged her two boys in outdoor activities. Last September, the family moved to Whistler for better skiing and hiking conditions.

When she was diagnosed with cancer last December, it was simply another challenge to beat. She shouldered it as she would anything else.

"No negative thoughts," Ball sums up. "We're going to beat this."

But the cancer was swift spreading from her skin to her lymph nodes and into her lungs. Slade died just six weeks after her diagnosis.

Flipping through photos on Ball's laptop, one finds it's hard to tell Slade was ever sick. In a Dec. 2 photo - just three days before her diagnosis - the couple poses atop a ski hill in Whistler. Big smiles. No negative thoughts.

There will be a memorial service for Slade at St. Stephen's Church (212 Old Chelsea Road) on Saturday, April 16, from 2-4 p.m. A reception at Chelsea Elementary School will follow.

Residents can also expect to see a Cascades Club regatta in Slade's name this summer. More details are forthcoming.

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