TRURO – For a 14-year-old, Cali Bruce is compassionate beyond her years.
Sitting at her kitchen table, she recounts her favourite memories with her cousin, Kevin. One week away from becoming the youngest person to ever swim the Northumberland Strait, she’s been thinking about Kevin a lot lately.
“We were pretty close,” she said. “We went skating on a little skating rink down the street from where he lived.
Standing behind her at the kitchen counter, her father Colin ducks his head and takes a walk to a different room as his daughter continued.
“We’d do everything – we’d go biking, he’d let me try his skateboard. We’d fight in the basement and have all out wars. We had so much fun.”
Cali’s mother, Laura, thinks back to the early days, when Cali was learning to swim.
“I’d take them down to Cape Breton where Kevin and his brother, Craig lived. They’d take her out swimming. She was scared at first, but they would just egg her on, like kids do, and then she was totally comfortable.”
Kevin was diagnosed with cancer when he was 14. He’d make it to his 15th birthday, but wouldn’t see another.
Now at the same age, Cali is raising money through the Big Swim – a vigorous trek across the choppy Northumberland Strait – to raise money for Brigadoon Village, a camp for kids with chronic illnesses.
“He didn’t get the chance to have his Make A Wish, or go to any special camps or anything,” Colin said. “So this is a way to give back for him.”
All summer, Cali has been putting in work, both on the fundraising trail and in the water. To date, she has surpassed her goal of $5,000 and is now north of $6,000.
The family has received an outpouring of support with people from Truro to Ontario offering funding and kind words.
“People look at her as an inspiration,” Colin said. “She’s a young person helping other young people – that’s pretty rare these days.”
The message hasn’t been lost on Cali, who remains humbled through it all.
“It feels really good to hear that from other people,” she said. “My goal was to help other kids, but to help inspire adults too is really special.”
Leaving from the New Brunswick side at Cape Jourimain, the swim will be 14 kilometres at best, but could be upwards of 17 with the currents. Cali has been preparing by swimming in salt water as often as possible.
This week, Cali met up with Erin Laende, who will be at her side in a kayak the entire way. The two went for a practice swim, where Cali learned to get in and out of the kayak and grab supplies without tipping it.
“It was good to meet her and get some practice in together,” Cali said. “She’s the one who is looking out for me the whole time, so it’s nice to know the person responsible for you.”
Despite being just seven days away, nerves have not been an issue.
“I’m more excited than nervous,” she said. “I might get jitters the day before, but once I’m there and in the water, I’ll just be looking to get it over with and celebrate.”
While swim times have not been announced yet, Cali will be hitting the water sometime on Sunday, heading for Borden-Carleton. Alongside her will be fellow Truro swimmer, 17-year-old Jenna Stubbert.
With more than three hours in the frigid waters, Kevin will be on Cali’s mind the whole way.
“I think he’d be happy about what I am doing.”