The Abbey Retreat Centre is challenging people in the highlands to get moving however they can in support of people with cancer.

The cancer patient retreat is launching a new fundraising campaign in July: The Haliburton Highlands Challenge. The event invites participants to set an achievable movement goal to complete throughout July and August, whether it be running, walking, swimming, biking, paddling or anything else.

Executive director Doug Norris said the event is inspired by the importance of exercise to cancer patients, which helps their healing process and stress.

“Exercise helps liberate the body’s own strength and immune systems,” Norris said, adding it benefits non-cancer patients too. “COVID is a massive source of stress for people who aren’t necessarily dealing with cancer and exercise can be a great source of resilience for us in that stress.”

The centre will ask participants to collect pledges to fundraise.


Norris said the event is completely scalable, with people able to choose whatever exercise and goals they want. Norris said he plans to paddle across his local lake 10 times, representing approximately 10 kilometres, which he said represents the distance he used to drive to see his father, when the man was dying from cancer.

“He taught me how to canoe,” Norris said. “Every person will have their own story and their own goal.”

The Fenninger family is participating and plans to bike a total of 15,000 kilometres, with a goal of raising $15,000. Marianne Fenninger, a facilitator with the centre, said has seen the huge impact the retreats have on people. Their family goal represents the amount needed to cover a four-day retreat for 10 people.

“Cancer does not stop for a pandemic,” the family said on its fundraising page. “The retreat waitlist is growing. We want to do our part to support this program.”

The fundraiser is important for the organization, which has seen its revenues drop significantly due to the pandemic, he said. The organization relies on donations and renting its facility out, and although that is still happening, Norris said it has dropped. Meanwhile, the organization has had to halt its usual free group retreats, particularly considering cancer patients’ vulnerability.

But Norris said they have still been able to provide the occasional retreat for lone families experiencing cancer to get some respite. The organization is also delivering its therapeutic programming online. But Norris said they want to be ready when gatherings are allowed again.

“That’s the whole point of this fundraiser,” he said. “We have a waitlist of 35 people waiting to come on retreat and we want to be ready as soon as conditions permit.”

More information and signups are available at

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