Overnight SUP Race: The Crossing for Cystic Fibrosis

Join us as we discover the extraordinary journey of Maddi Leblanc, a SUP athlete for Team Canada, as she gears up for the Crossing for Cystic Fibrosis. This grueling event, organized by the Piper’s Angels Foundation and led by Travis Suit, takes place from June 19 to 23, in the stunning waters of Bimini, The Bahamas. Participants will paddle overnight, facing the challenges of darkness and endurance, with Maddi aiming to become the first Canadian female to win this race. This event raises awareness and funds for cystic fibrosis, making it a remarkable cause worth supporting for athletes and advocates alike.

As a representative of Team Canada in international competitions, how has being part of this team influenced your approach to events like the Crossing for Cystic Fibrosis? What role do you play within the team, and how does it impact your performance and preparation for such challenging events?

Being part of Team Canada and competing at a high level has taught me that I can achieve anything I set my mind to and persevere through tough challenges like the Crossing for Cystic Fibrosis. As a member of Team Canada for the past few years, it’s hard to define a specific role I take on with the team. We all work together and support each other so well! Otherwise, does being a loud cheerleader count? Haha! I’m generally a happy person and love uplifting the team when we travel to international competitions. I believe that having an uplifting personality will help my performance by talking myself out of the hard moments I will experience during the crossing. I know my body can physically complete this challenge, but how successful I’ll be will be determined by how strong I can be mentally while I am paddling in the middle of the Gulf Stream.

You’ve had an illustrious career in stand-up paddleboarding. Among your many achievements, which do you consider the most defining moments of your career, and how have these experiences shaped your approach to both competition and advocacy in the sport?

Firstly, thank you so much! I really appreciate your kind words! Wow, that is a tough question to answer because there are just too many experiences that are near and dear to my heart that have shaped who I am today and my approach to competition and advocacy in the sport. However, some of the most defining moments relevant to the crossing would have to be creating On Board.

With your extensive background as a SUP athlete and a community leader, what inspired you to take on the challenge of the 2024 Crossing for Cystic Fibrosis, particularly given your extensive involvement in community-driven SUP initiatives?

This is a fun question to answer because the Crossing for CF was definitely never a race I thought I would partake in, and I definitely shocked myself when I clicked the register button back in January this year! There were many influential factors that ultimately confirmed my participation in the race. The first reason was watching the film ‘Through Blue’ back in December of 2023. I traveled quickly to Florida to watch the premiere in person, and I was absolutely blown away by learning what the race is all about and the incredible work that Pipers Angels Foundation is doing for families suffering from cystic fibrosis. Locale Films did a spectacular job capturing the essence of the race and following along Blake Carmichael’s journey participating in his first crossing and winning the men’s competitive solo division. The second reason I registered was essentially because of Blake and spending a majority of my off-season training with him in Pompano Beach this year. I had the opportunity to train with him quite a bit, and of course, we talked about the crossing a lot. One day, I remember saying to him, “I was thinking… I’d love to be on the support boat this year following you while you participate in the crossing, would that be cool?” and Blake responded, “Yes… but I’d love it even more if you actually paddled in the crossing instead.” I remember my competitive nature kicking in at that moment and realizing that there was no way I was going to stand on the sidelines and watch this race happen from a support boat. More importantly, the way Blake talked about Travis and his daughter Piper, who lives with cystic fibrosis, and what those suffering from cystic fibrosis are going through, it inspired me to contribute to raising awareness and funds for Pipers Angels Foundation by signing up for the crossing.

The final reason why I decided to register for the crossing came from a lot of reflection and looking back at my community-driven SUP initiatives. The more I talked to Blake and actually thought about signing up, the more I realized that it had been a while since I paddled for someone other than myself. Leaving a full-time job two years ago to pursue a competitive SUP career made me hyper-focused on myself and my own needs, and I realized that I haven’t paddled for another purpose in a long time. Ten years ago marks the first time I hosted an event called ‘On Board’ where I raised funds for brain cancer research in honor of my friends Julia Turner and Lynn Lambert, who passed away too young from cancer. I hosted the annual event until 2021 after I had moved to the west coast of Canada, and since then became extremely busy. When I signed up for the crossing, I thought about Julia and Lynn and decided that I want to dedicate my crossing to them. I want to do something hard to honor them again like I did ten years ago when I was 17 years old. They remind me every day that life is too short, and that I have to take chances and risks while I’m young and capable of doing so before our chances are gone.

In your discussion on the Paddle Logger Podcast, you highlighted the transformative impact of paddleboarding. Could you share how paddleboarding has personally influenced your life or professional career?

Stand-up paddling has changed the course of my life entirely. From starting out as a personal hobby to becoming a way to cope with losing my friends to cancer, to being the subject of my undergraduate and master’s research theses, to now becoming what I depend on to make a living, I am extremely grateful for this sport and everything it has done for me. Personally, paddling has provided me with a unique way to move through life. It is crazy for me to think that standing and moving on 14ft of foam has given me many reasons to travel the world, meet new people, experience different cultures, become creative with my work, and essentially be a happier, healthier person at the end of my days. I never thought I would be where I am today because of paddling, and I truly believe I will always be passionate about this craft and its development until the day I die.

Preparing for such a demanding overnight paddle requires rigorous training. Could you describe your specific training regimen leading up to the Crossing and how it might differ from your preparations for other events?

Huge shoutouts here go to my coach Larry Cain, Seychelle, and Dr. Audrey Lee. Larry has been writing my programs for the past two years and has always kept me on track with my training and proper execution of our plans we create together. Every week we tackle work that helps me get ready for ultra-endurance racing while also maintaining speed work. Additionally, I started working with Seychelle in December of 2023, and she has been extremely encouraging and helpful, giving me tips and tricks on how to complete a successful crossing journey. Lastly, Dr. Audrey Lee has been a complete game-changer for me, assisting with my nutrition and making sure that I am properly fueled day by day for every single training session I have leading up to the crossing. For more information about my training and nutrition specifically, you can follow me on Instagram to see my weekly recap highlights I’ve been posting since February.

The Crossing for Cystic Fibrosis is not only a test of physical endurance but also mental strength, especially paddling overnight. What are the biggest challenges you anticipate facing during this race, and how do you prepare mentally for them?

The biggest challenges I anticipate facing during the crossing are the night paddling portion since I literally never paddle at night and also staying hydrated enough in the warmer climate. Mentally, my preparation is primarily visualization, visualization, visualization! I’ve been working with my close friend Kirsty MacMillian, who has recently become certified in Mental Performance Mastery (MPM) for athletes, and she has taught me some pretty cool tricks to keep my mind focused on completing a successful crossing.

You’ve successfully run your own event, On Board, raising significant funds for brain cancer research. How do you hope to leverage your participation in the Crossing to further raise awareness and funds for cystic fibrosis?

I felt the call to participate in the crossing because of the inspiration I gained from living in Florida during my off-season training. Being surrounded by other crossing participants and local CF warriors, I felt compelled to join this incredible event. My only hope is that others from near and far may also become inspired by my participation in the crossing so that they can learn more about cystic fibrosis and how we can all support organizations like the Pipers Angels Foundation.

As a prominent female athlete and having been named 2020’s SUP Woman of the Year, what message do you hope your participation sends to other women and girls looking to enter the sport?

When I reflect back on my stand-up paddling journey, it’s crazy for me to think of everything I did to get to where I am today. I was simply a tiny kid who tried SUP once, fell in love with the craft, and saved up my babysitting money to buy my first board. As I continued to grow up, I then created a 10km paddling brain cancer fundraiser, started racing, became obsessed with racing, started working for SUPKids camps, became a SUP instructor, learned how to surf on the Great Lakes, helped manage a surf store, and now here we are! I was a kid who grew up in the least likely of places (in the very frigid cold weather of Canada, haha!) to become a professional paddling athlete, and yet, my passion has brought me here. I truly hope that my participation in the crossing sends the message to women and girls everywhere that if you have a passion, and you work hard and stay dedicated, even during difficult times, you can accomplish anything you set your mind to. As long as you lead with your heart, everything else will fall into place. I will never stop chasing my dreams, and I hope that my participation in the crossing inspires more women and girls to continue chasing after their dreams no matter what they may be.

Assuming successful completion of the Crossing, what are your future aspirations in paddleboarding? Are there other causes or events you are planning to support or initiate that align with your passion for environmental and social causes?

From the very beginning, I’ve always been passionate about growing the sport of SUP for young people. My future aspirations in paddleboarding would be to open my own school one day that teaches children to SUP and maybe also prone paddleboarding, surfing, and swimming, while also teaching environmental conservation efforts. I’ve always had a passion for combining outdoor education and water-based learning; however, I’m noticing that there aren’t many programs designed for young people out there to be able to learn the sport. I hope that one day I can fill that gap in our sport so that we continue to see SUP grow to its fullest potential.

For more information:

TotalSUP event-page

Event website

Facebook even tpage

Maddi Leblanc


Photos by the courtesy of: PIPER’S ANGELS FOUNDATION and Maddi Leblanc

About the Author

Dóra Hegedűs

Dora is a female grandmaster SUP racer who joined the world of paddling in 2019 and quickly developed an irrepressible passion for the sport. Originally from Hungary, Dora now resides in Aarhus, Denmark, and despite her affinity for flat waters, she loves to participate in international races and is dedicated to making SUP racing an inclusive sport for women over 50 - a vibrant age where, as Dora believes, life truly begins to sparkle with fun and excitement. Fluent in Hungarian, English, Italian, French, and (soon) Danish, she is a polyglot. In her professional life, Dora is a business coach and therapist.