The Doreen & Robert Dick Story

Whiteshell Cross Country Ski Club hosts the Doreen and Robert Dick Memorial Ski Tour in support of the ALS Society of Manitoba

Doreen and Robert Dick

Since February 2002 the Whiteshell Cross Country Ski club has hosted the annual Doreen Dick Fortitude Ski Tour. In 2013, the ski club honoured the memory of both Doreen and Robert Dick, who were a vital part of our ski club and community by hosting the first Doreen and Robert Dick Memorial Ski Tour in support of the ALS Society of Manitoba. The event which brought out 55 skiers who raised 8, 213.00 for Manitobans living with ALS was considered a success and The Whiteshell Ski Club has decided to run a modified version of the memorial tour and fundraiser as an annual event.

Doreen and Robert Dick both grew up in Dorval, Montreal. In 1969, the Dicks together with their children; 5 year old Douglas and 6 month old Nancy moved to Seven Sisters Manitoba where Robert worked for Manitoba Hydro.

Doreen soon became an active member of the Whiteshell Cross Country Ski Club. She taught Jackrabbits, and as a competitor, represented Whiteshell and Eastman in such communities as Snow Lake, Thompson and Riding Mountain. Robert, though not the competitive skier that his wife was, also began skiing and helping with the development and maintenance of the Whiteshell Ski Trails.

In 1994, a couple of years before Robert’s retirement, Robert and Doreen moved to Pinawa. In addition to skiing they enjoyed golfing and gardening. Robert raced sail boats and Doreen volunteered at the Pinawa Hospital.

In July of 1999, Doreen began having problems with slurred speech. Doctors were concerned that she might have had a stroke, but when that proved negative, other tests were done. In November of that same year she had a preliminary diagnosis of ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis) also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. ALS is a rapidly progressive fatal neuromuscular disease in which nerve cells die and leave voluntary muscles paralyzed.

Despite her deteriorating health, in February of 2000 Doreen joined other Whiteshell Ski Club members on a tour, which she suspected would be her last, of the English River, Jones Graham, and Orange Trails, stopping at both cabins for rest and refreshments. The total distance was approximately 16 kilometres.

Doreen’s suspicions were correct, this was to be her last major ski tour. Her health deteriorated rapidly over the next few months. She began to have trouble swallowing and in April of 2000, at 59 years of age, she had a final definitive diagnosis of Bulbar ALS. Bulbar ALS is a specific type of ALS where onset symptoms are in the speech, esophagus, and respiratory systems.

In August of 2000, Doreen could no longer swallow and needed a feeding tube. As she had lost the ability to speak she used a computer with a speech recognition program to communicate. The feeding tube and the fact that she could no longer talk did not stop her from playing golf that summer, or from interacting and playing games with grandchildren, Madison, Aidan, and Riley via computer. However, her health continued to deteriorate rapidly. With the help of community volunteers and their children, Robert cared for her at home for as long as he could. But in July of 2001, when she required a ventilator to breathe, it became impossible for him to care for her at home, and she went to live at the Riverview Health Centre in Winnipeg. Robert maintained his home in Pinawa, but spent four days a week by Doreen’s side at Riverview, taking her for walks in the neighbourhood, going on tours arranged through the centre, visiting with their children and grandchildren and helping with her general care.

In the spring of 2007 Doreen could no longer use her computer and her only way of communicating was with her eyes. When even that became difficult for her, she, through her own choice, was taken off the ventilator and passed away in September of 2007.

Just prior to Doreen’s death, Robert and Doreen’s daughter Nancy Chapel, her husband Ben, and their three children moved to Pinawa. With his son Douglas and daughter-in-law Bev being nearby in Winnipeg, Robert was able to take comfort in spending time with his children and grandchildren as he adapted to a life in which he was no longer a husband or a caregiver. But within a couple of years, in 2009, Robert began noticing changes in his body. He had trouble doing simple tasks like tying his shoelaces, and experienced general weakness in all his extremities. He began to suspect that he too might have ALS. As ALS is a very rare disease (with only 1 or 2 people out of 100,000 having it) family and friends thought this to be a statistical impossibility. In the spring of 2010 he was admitted to the Pinawa Hospital with pneumonia and needed a bipap mask (which is a less invasive form of ventilation) to breathe.

Madison and Doreen

After several months of testing, in June of 2010 Robert was diagnosed with limb onset ALS disease. With the help of his children, home care, and community support Robert stayed in his home for as long as possible. He still enjoyed his garden, so Nancy, Douglas, and some of Robert’s friends and neighbours planted and cared for it in just the way he wanted. In April of 2011, when he was no longer able to feed himself, he was moved to the Whitemouth Personal Care Home where he stayed until he passed away on June 19th, 2012.

No one knows the cause of ALS disease, or how this married couple both contracted the disease. Neither are they the only people from Pinawa, or the Whiteshell Cross Country Ski Club, who have been afflicted with this disease. David Johnson, son of Harry and Ellen Johnson, who lived in Pinawa as a child, and was also a Whiteshell Ski Club Jackrabbit contracted ALS at the age of 41. At this time he was living in Kelowna with his wife Shani, and teenage children Josh and Ashlea. Some Pinawanians will remember donating money, via the Pinawa Christian Fellowship and other channels, to help David and his family deal with the financial difficulties they incurred as a result of the disease. David died of ALS in 2010. (Click here for more on David’s story as told by his father)

As a way of paying tribute to Doreen and Robert Dick, as well as a means of helping people such as the late David Johnson and his family who have been afflicted by ALS, the Whiteshell Ski Club invites you to join us in our memorial tour. All donations will go towards supporting people in Manitoba who are living with ALS.

Ski tours of varying lengths will be made available for beginner, intermediate, and advanced skiers. Multiple guides will allow participants to ski at a comfortable pace.

As skiers, we in the Whiteshell Cross Country Ski Club love to see people get out on their skis, but if you don’t, or can’t ski, please consider supporting those who are participating in the tour with your pledges. Tax receipts are available for donations over $20.00. Pledge forms can be downloaded from this site as well.

The 2016 tour began with Nancy Chapel – daughter of Doreen and Robert Dick – giving a

brief presentation on ALS disease at the Pinawa Club. Following this, 15 skiers set off on tours of

varying length and difficulty and later returned to the Pinawa Club where they met other supporters for

dinner. The Pinawa Club served a special from which $2.00 for each dish ordered went to the ALS

Society. In total $1,064.00 was raised for the ALS Society of Manitoba.

The following is a copy of the presentation given by Nancy Chapel in Feb 2016:

I would like to first thank everyone for coming out for the 4th Memorial Ski Tour in

honor of my parents, Robert and Doreen Dick.

My parents both passed away from ALS, better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Those of

you who knew my parents know that they both embraced life to the fullest, and after they

were diagnosed, they lived with both courage and dignity. For those of you that did not

know my parents, I have printed up a copy of their story from the Whiteshell Cross

Country Ski Club website which I will leave here.

For those of you who may not know what ALS is. Amytrophic Lateral Sclerosis is a

neurodegenerative disease where the nerve cells that control your muscles die. The

“living wires” that connect your brain to your muscles degenerates, leading to a loss of

mobility, loss of speech and eventually impact the ability to breath. It does not affect

involuntary muscles such as the heart, does not affect the brain, or sense of touch, so

you are essentially “trapped” within your own body.

In 2014, the Ice Bucket Challenge, which I am sure most of you have heard of or even

participated in, made international headlines and raised 100 million dollars to fund

research. In Canada 26 million dollars were raised, of which 1 ½ million dollars was

awarded to researchers right here in Manitoba.

On January 28 of this year, there was a major research breakthrough published by

Oregon State University in which they were able to halt the disease progression in one

type of mouse model, allowing the mice to approach their normal lifespan of 2 years.

Without treatment, the mice would die within 2 weeks. It is not known yet if humans will

have the same response, but researchers are moving as quickly as possible toward

clinical trials.

When my mom was initially diagnosed almost 15 years ago, there were around 55

people living with the disease in Manitoba. Today, there are approximately 300 people

living with ALS – 9 of those are in the North Eastman region. When I go out to ski today,

I will not only be skiing in memory of my parents, but in support of those currently

affected by ALS.