More MS news articles for Aug 2001

On a Row

Ohio man hopes canoe voyage helps search for MS cure

21 August 2001
By Lydia Carrico

What started out as an inability to smell tacos ended up being an 1,800-mile canoe trip down the nation's rivers for a man who hopes to raise money and an awareness for multiple sclerosis.

John Latecki has been on the river for 35 days and hopes to dock in New Orleans on Oct. 16, the five-year anniversary of his sister's diagnosis of the disease. On Monday, the 24-year-old stopped briefly in Owensboro to fill his gallon milk jug with fresh water.

"I don't think I'll be the same person when I get back," said Latecki, standing on the boat dock wearing a beige, floppy fishing hat to shield his already tanned face. Nearby, his 17-foot canoe loaded with freeze-dried food, blankets and empty jugs rocked in the murky water.

"I'll be more appreciative of things I took for granted," he said.

Multiple sclerosis is a disease of the central nervous system that characteristically strikes people between the ages of 20 and 40. His 35-year-old sister, Julie McAfee, was diagnosed after waking up one morning and finding that she was blind in one eye. With treatment, that returned, but then her sense of smell disappeared.

Latecki was cooking tacos recently when his nephew remarked how good they smelled. When his sister told them she couldn't smell them, Latecki said he "felt really helpless."

So he asked for a leave of absence from his employer, Sines Inc., a warehousing company in Wooster, Ohio, to canoe down the rivers. The company also put up $1,000 for the trip.

Latecki pushed off July 17 along the banks of Killbuck Creek in Millersburg, Ohio. Most days he travels about 24 miles, with only nature and a solar-powered radio to keep him company.

He keeps close to the water's edge to avoid barges, and he consults maps pinpointing main channels and public docks to guide him. Much of his time is spent watching the wildlife and reflecting on his life. He appreciates his mom more, and he is sorry for a frog he once killed when he was a young boy.

"For some reason, that popped in my head and I couldn't get it out," Latecki said. "I sat there for two hours thinking about that poor frog."

At night, he pulls ashore and tosses a tarp or sleeping bag on a sandy beach.

"I've seen more shooting stars on this trip than I have in my life," he said.

He has not run into any trouble along the 731 miles that he's already traveled, unless one counts the coyotes howling and snarling near him one night while he camped. He just shooed them away, he said.

Bathing isn't a problem either, he said, although he did go a week and a half without a shower. People he meets along the banks often invite him for dinner and a bath. But sometimes the best he can do is to take a dip in the river, which doesn't really do much good, he said.

"You never know when your next shower is going to come from," he said.

Latecki and McAfee have always been close, despite their nearly 12 years difference in age. She filled in as surrogate mom while their parents worked.

"He knew he could always come to me with problems, and he could tell me anything and confide in me," McAfee said from her Glenmont, Ohio, home in a telephone interview Monday. "This is something I could never repay him for what he's doing for me. I know someday they will find a cure for MS, and he can say he was part of it."

To donate to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society Northeast Ohio Chapter, call (800)667-7131. For updates on John Latecki's canoe trip, check out his Website at