A former Olympian and Calgary firefighter took to the waters of the Bow River on Wednesday to take on the unique challenge of paddling against the current in an effort to raise money and awareness about neurological disorders.

Duff Gibson, who won the gold medal in 2006 for men’s skeleton, picked up his paddleboard to take on the challenge of paddling upstream from the Centre Street Bridge to the Bearspaw Dam, a full length of 22 km.

He admits that it is an odd way to paddle on the water.

“A number of people have said, ‘you’re going the wrong way’ or ‘why are you doing that?’. I liken it to mountain biking; no one says ‘why are you going up the hill?’ [It’s the] same kind of thing.”

Gibson’s journey was inspired by the challenge posed to his wife Jenn, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis three years ago.

“It’s very difficult to sit around and not really have anything to do, so this is one way to show that I care and hopefully raise some money to do some research that might actually translate into doing something down the road.”

He’s working with the Branch Out Neurological Foundation, a group that provides grants in support of treatment for neurological issues that are separate from drug therapies.

“Traditionally, pharmaceutical drugs have been highly supported in terms of research dollars. Branch Out actually comes from branching out of the traditional to source and fund other types of research.”

He says there are over 600 neurological diseases and while his wife’s case of MS is relatively mild so far, he hopes the work that Branch Out supports will help her sometime in the future.

“Branch Out may be something that may be very relevant to her in the future but at the moment she leads a relatively comfortable life with the symptoms that she has so far.”

Jenn Gibson says she is touched by Duff’s commitment to helping out.

“I’m so proud of him mostly but so touched that he would think about doing this in honour of me and in honour of Branch Out Foundation. I’m thrilled and happy to be alongside him today.”

So far, the early symptoms of her MS have not been too bad, but she supports Branch Out in the hopes of one day discovering a cure for the disease.

“Branch Out focuses on research for diseases that don’t have a cure and MS, in particular, doesn’t have a cure so I want to look at ways that I can stay youthful and active for my kids and for Duff. So I’m really willing and passionate about looking at everything.”

As for paddling upriver, Duff says that fighting the current has had a good deal of challenges many that are much different than what he faced when he was in Turin.

“I was a power athlete in skeleton. This is completely different but it’s something that I really enjoy,” he says. “There’s spots where, especially at this time of year, it’s too shallow and you have to carry it. It’s a bit of a puzzle that you have to put together. Sometimes it’s so shallow that you take your paddle and you push it on the rocks underneath to push yourself forward because you can’t do a proper paddle stroke. It’s very challenging in that regard.”

Duff’s campaign raised $9,200 as of Wednesday morning but they have the goal of $10,000 by the end of the day.

For more information about Branch Out, visit the official website.

(With files from Brenna Rose)