Heroes Among Us


Richmond man paddles Mississippi River while battling disorder

Posted at 2:00 PM, May 11, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-11 18:34:32-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Rolling stones gather no moss, and neither does Courtnay Midkiff.

The 27-year-old Open High School graduate moves with a purpose, whether he is touring around the world with a rock band or trekking across America on foot.

The explorer’s latest journey has him soaking up the country in a way that would make Lewis and Clark proud.

Courtnay is paddling the length of the Mississippi River, all 2,300 miles. He is paddling alone, through ten states, from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico.

Courtnay Midkiff

Courtnay Midkiff

"I think it will take me three to four months to finish," Courtnay said.

It’s an aggressive voyage for this former Eagle Scout who holds only a canoe merit badge.

Courtnay was rolling on the river when we tracked him down on his mobile phone.

"Sometimes I just stop and laugh because it is just so cool to me,” he reflected.

While others have paddled the Mighty Mississippi before, what makes Courtnay’s journey so special is that he is doing it while living with a genetic disorder.

"I was diagnosed with Fabry disease when I was about eight years old," Courtnay said. "I remember when I was a kid I didn’t tell any of my friends about it. I just kept quiet about it."

Courtnay Midkiff

Fabry disease causes excruciating pain and burning in the hands and feet. It leads to heart and kidney problems.

Courtnay decided long ago not to let the disorder define him.

In 2013, Courtnay took six months to walk from coast to coast.

"I tend to try to ignore the pain when I do have it," he said. "I didn’t have the energy to walk every day. I would walk a block and have to sit down. Take a breather and drink some water.”

Courtnay raised awareness and tens of thousands of dollars to fight Fabry. So far, during his latest voyage, Mother Nature has been a source of pain.

"One morning I had to cross a crazy big lake and when I woke up a had to deal with a big (snow) storm," he said.

Courtnay Midkiff

Courtnay survives on peanut butter, tuna, Pop Tarts, and the generosity of strangers.

"You see the bad people on the news every day but there really are some good people out there to give you a hand if you really need it," he said.

This solo trip allows Courtnay a liquid platform while drinking in the nature around him.

“Every day is like a picture out of National Geographic. There are eagles flying around and fish swimming under me. I see deer on the river bank every day.”

Courtnay Midkiff isn’t racing to the finish line. He’s enjoying this slow journey however painful it may be.

"If it takes me three months. Cool. If it takes me five I’m not worried about it," he said.

Courtnay’s Mississippi River message? Choppy waters don’t last forever.

"No matter how rough of a go you’re having today, just look forward tomorrow and try again."

Greg McQuade features local heroes in a weekly “Heroes Among Us” segment. Watch Greg’s reports Thursdays on CBS News at 6 or here on WTVR.com. If you would like to nominate someone to be featured on “Heroes Among Us,” click here to email heroes@wtvr.com.