A journey home

© Guillaume Vincent

Swimming well outside its natural habitat, a young humpback whale caused quite a sensation in Québec just over a year ago. It was an unprecedented journey. The whale swam up the St. Lawrence River, splashed past Quebec City and Trois-Rivières, and entered the Old Port of Montreal.

From late May to early June 2020, the large playful mammal captivated an audience glued to news stations as a global pandemic raged. Koko Lee, a curious yet disciplined 10-year-old child, was enchanted by the whale. She and her two siblings watched the journey unfold from their homeschool desks in Mont-Tremblant.

© Guillaume Vincent

On mandatory stay-at-home lockdown, they monitored the news reports that captured the amazing journey. The young whale dazzled all who saw her. But her sudden and unexplained death underscored our very fragile reality. The passing hit Koko hard.

Crafting a plan

An outstanding athlete, expert swimmer, avid sailor and a lover of all marine life, Koko wanted to pay tribute to this humpback whale by taking action. Koko was determined to find a way to reunite the young female whale’s spirit with her family.

Working with her parents, Koko mapped out a plan. She would return along the same path the whale followed. And she would do so with nothing to power her but the wind, and her courage.

Training for success

Focused training for her ambitious challenge began in earnest this spring. In May, the now 11-year-old Koko began biking 20 kilometres per day. She swam two to three kilometres a day. She sailed at Lac Mercier in Mont-Tremblant when there was wind to power her sails.

In June, with her father Raymond by her side, she upped her training regime. Each day included a 40-kilometre bike ride. She sailed whenever possible, completing a 13-kilometre test from Pointe-Claire to the Lachine lighthouse. In July, Koko navigated through five regions preparing herself and her small dinghy for the trip: Montreal, Sorel-Tracy, Trois-Rivières, Portneuf and Quebec City. She tested the cycling routes between Quebec City and Tadoussac. She confirmed sailing conditions on the St. Lawrence River.

All this in preparation for her journey later this month. Club de Natation Mont-Tremblant (CNMT) head swimming coach Loredana Horvat has worked with Koko for the past four years. “Koko has a remarkable work ethic, especially for someone so young,” Coach Horvat tells us, adding, “Koko excels in everything she does. She is strong and determined. I know that the spirit of the whale will carry her through this epic adventure.”

A daunting challenge

Over a year in the making, the journey begins this month. When the wind is just right, Koko will set off on a whale of a journey. Koko will bike 154 kilometres from Lac Mercier in Mont- Tremblant to Montréal. From there, she will launch her small Optimist dinghy and sail 250 kilometers down the St. Lawrence River from Parc de la Promenade-Bellerive to Québec City. Koko will then bike 220 kilometres from Quebec City to Tadoussac. A final launch of her dinghy to cross 30 kilometres of the St. Lawrence River will complete the reverse journey the whale swam last year.

It is a daunting plan – but one that she is determined to accomplish. In Koko’s own words, “I just want to take her home.”

Koko’s whale song

Koko hopes that her journey will help sharpen the focus on the world around us. She wants to bring awareness toward all living beings that are a part of our world. Koko reminds us “We share this world. We must help preserve it not just for humans, but for all beings we share it with.” It has been said that whales do not sing because they have an answer. They sing because they have a song.

Koko’s song is one of optimism. It is a song of a brave young girl with a strong and determined heart. With the wind at her back, Koko’s song will carry her and the spirit of the young whale safely back to the waters of Tadoussac.


More from this author by clicking on her photo below.

Cathy Bergman


Cathy Bergman58 Posts

Cathy Bergman est devenue athlète de façon inopinée à un âge relativement avancé. Elle nous montre qu’il n'est jamais trop tard pour retrouver la santé et la forme. Cathy Bergman is an accidental athlete who found health and fitness late in life. She shows us that is never too late to get healthy and fit.

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