Come Sail Away…


Steve and Darlene on Cloud

In 2010, Steve Van Vlaenderen realized his lifelong dream of buying a sailboat. A year later, Steve was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and he was devastated. Doctors told him the sailboat was not a good idea, due to balance issues and other problems brought on by the disease. His diagnosis made him feel defeated, robbed, and angry.

“I had no motivation,” he said. “I felt more like my life had been taken away from me, and that I couldn’t do anything anymore.”

It was hard for his partner, Darlene Hildebrand, to watch.

“I just wanted to encourage him to keep going and not give up, because I knew what he was capable of,” Hildebrand said.

Two years later he made the decision to take back control of his life.

Realizing his dream of sailing has, quite literally, put the wind back in his sails. Steve and Darlene’s Sail On with Parkinson’s fundraiser began in 2017 and ispart of Fundraising Your Way, a popular program that lets Parkinson Canada supporters choose how to make their mark, fueled by their passion. Steve and Darlene are passionate about sailing.

In 2018, they transported their boat from their home port of Gimli, Manitoba to Duluth, Minnesota where they officially launched their sailboat Cloud for the start of their Great Lakes adventure—Sail On with Parkinson’s. Their voyage took them from Duluth, Minnesota on Lake Superior to Sarnia, Ontario on Lake Huron—but it wasn’t exactly smooth sailing. Three days into their trip, 20 miles out of Bayfield, WI on Lake Superior, their boat started to take on water, and they had to be rescued by the Coast Guard. A few days later, after having the boat repaired in Bayfield, they were back on their way. They travelled 1500 km and visited 20 ports by the end of the summer. 

In June 2019, they drove back to Sarnia and began the second leg of Sail On with Parkinson’s. It took them two and a half months to make the impressive 1,700 km journey through lakes Erie and Ontario—all while raising money to fight Parkinson’s. The final leg took them from Sarnia across Lake Erie, through the Welland Canal, across Lake Ontario, then up the St. Lawrence River to their final destination of Gananoque, Ontario, before returning to port in Whitby, Ontario on August 24, just as this article went to press.

As they prepared to set sail, Steve took his time. Time carries such significance for people with Parkinson’s.

“Physically, I’m a lot slower on the boat so I’m a lot more cautious,” he tells CTV News, Toronto in a story produced in July 2019. That’s because his motor skills are deteriorating.

Being on the water, Steve says he feels like he doesn’t have Parkinson’s at all.

“I get a euphoric feeling. Sailing on the Great Lakes, it’s a feeling of peacefulness,” he said.

To watch a video of the CTV Toronto story, click here

As a Parkinson’s Ambassador, Steve Van Vlaenderen participates in national, provincial and federal advocacy initiatives, to help build awareness of and support for people living with Parkinson’s, their families and caregivers, and their communities. By sharing his experience as someone who lives with the challenges of Parkinson’s disease every day, Steve hopes to inspire others like him to never give up on their dreams … no matter what.

Over 100,000 Canadians are diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, increasing by 25 new cases daily. Parkinson Canada is here to help—join us in our quest for a cure.

Get involved today.

To learn more about Fundraising Your Way, visit

For more information on how to become a Parkinson Ambassador, visit

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