Latecki canoeing 30,000 miles to raise awareness

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 13, 2005

DEMOPOLIS- Most people host meetings or hand out pamphlets in order to raise awareness of a certain subject whether it be domestic violence or breast

cancer, but John Latecki Jr. has taken things to the next level.

Latecki’s sister was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, MS, more than seven years ago and he has made it his duty to inform the country of the disease.

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There is just one thing that makes his travels special. His mode of transportation is a canoe.

“I thought about horse riding or kayaking, but I had experienced canoeing before,” Latecki said. “It’s slow travel and a good way to see the country.”

The 28 year old began to plan his trip four years ago and set sail, without a sail, July 31, 2004.

His trip began in his hometown of Cleveland, Ohio and yesterday Latecki stopped in Demopolis for a break.

“Demopolis is nicer than I thought. I walked around downtown and there are a lot of historical sites,” he said. “It’s bigger than I thought and the people are nice. I guess it’s the southern hospitality.”

Latecki said he is enjoying his stay at the Demopolis Yacht Basin and has met many helpful people in the city.

In the past year, he’s traveled the waters of Lake Erie, the Hudson River and Key Largo, but he plans to continue his life on the water for the next three to four years, adding bad weather and necessary stops into the equation.

“I’ve gone 3,912 miles to be exact,” he said. “I have to go out west and I am going to try to go up to Vermont.”

He hopes to travel 30,000 not just to increase MS awareness but also to hold the record for the longest solo canoe trip.

“I already have it, but I am going to wait until I am finished to turn in my information.”

When he stops Latecki stocks his food and water supplies, charges his cellular phone, attempts to find an Internet source and helps local MS groups and organizations.

“Finding food and a place to wash my clothes are hard things now,” he said. “Just getting food and water have become the most difficult things I have to do.”

Finding the necessities may have been the hardest, but Latecki admits the scariest was braving the winds of Katrina in the woods outside of Coffeeville.

“I tied my boat down and crawled underneath it,” he said. “I could hear the trees falling all around me and a big one fell onto my boat. Well, it was big enough to make a loud sound.”

Because this is only Latecki’s second canoe trip, the first lasting a mere three months, he admits his entire family was worried about him in the beginning.

“They are happy about it now,” he said. “My sister is extremely proud now.”

Whenever Latecki feels like quitting, he thinks about his sister, Julie McAfee, who is twelve years older than he.

“She’s like a mom to me. She taught me how to read and how to tie my shoes. She’s my inspiration because she has had a real positive attitude through it all,” he said. “Whenever I feel like quitting, I just look at her name on the side of my boat, rub my hands over it and that’s what keeps me going.”

Latecki said he made the commitment to canoe cross-country because he wanted people to see how serious he was about the situation.

“I want to help promote awareness,” he said. “I want to motivate people to learn about it and a lot of people have been inspired by what I do.”

You can track Latecki’s travels at