WINCHESTER – When it comes to challenges, Lorie Duff isn’t about to back down from anything even if that means riding 480 kilometers across the Gobi Desert.

When the opportunity to represent Team Canada at the Gobi Desert Cup in Mongolia in August came up, Duff jumped at the chance.

To fully understand what would motivate someone to take on a six-day endurance race with multiple horses covering 80 kilometres a day is to fully understand the nature of Duff and her inspiring attitude.

Born and raised on a farm in Newfoundland, Duff is a professional horsemanship coach and trainer based at Liberty Lane Farms with strong ties to Dundas County having lived here for more than a decade.

Despite her agricultural upbringing, she didn’t own a horse until she was in her thirties.

“We never had saddle horses or anything like that so I would pay $10 for an hour ride in downtown St. John’s,” she said.

It was during her first riding session that she was bitten by the riding bug.

“I was on my first horse and it just takes off. It runs straight across this hilled area and ran straight to the fence line. The guy catches up and says, ‘are you okay?’ And I said, ‘yeah, can I do that again?’”, said Duff.

These days she’s got an impressive list of accomplishments, including the first western performer at the RCMP sunset ceremonies in Ottawa, a featured demonstrator at the Can-Am Horse Expo and performances at the Calgary Stampede. She also just debuted her short movie called Humble and Kind in New York city is also a NEA Showmanship and NEA Sportsmanship Award-winner.

Photos courtesy STL Photography

It’s safe to say that the bigger the stage the better Duff performs but at the heart of it all is her relationship with horses but that went to a whole new level recently when she woke up on day paralyzed on the entire right side of her body.

“I had three blown discs in my neck. There was no real rhyme or reason. It wasn’t a horse riding accident, I just woke up one day and it was like I had bad cramp from sleeping on a bad pillow and it evolved. I was in so much pain I was vomiting,” she said. “I was in a wheelchair for several months and the fusion didn’t go well. It was almost two years before it finally set well and she could resume activities. Now, I’m stronger, healthier and happier than I’ve ever been in my entire life.”

She believes the experience made her more confident in her abilities and as a person.

“I’m kind of like a freight train. In the last 36 months I haven’t really stopped. One thing evolved into another and now this. I got invited to represent Canada in Mongolia,” she said.

Even though entering a race of this magnitude is a real cap in the feather for her, Duff prefers to take a bigger picture approach.

“I’m really big believer in doing something for a purpose. My mom always used to say to me, ‘if you’re going to cook something, cook it with love,’” said Duff. “I’ve been really fortunate in my life but I’ve also been really unfortunate about some things as well. When they offered me the opportunity to go into Gobi Desert Cup I thought about it. My daughter got diagnosed with a skin disease in November. In January she began chemo. In June we went back for a visit and the chemo was working. So this whole thing with the Gobi Desert Cup had just been presented to me just days before this visit at CHEO. I always strive to be a good person and do right by everybody. We were at the hospital and we got the good news and I took a jaunt downstairs to visit the CHEO Foundation. I told them I was offered this to do this endurance race and I told them right at the counter that I would like to dedicate this race to CHEO. It meant more to me to do the race, it gave me more of a purpose or a drive. My daughter turned to me at the hospital and said, ‘wow, I’m so proud of you.’ It gave her a boost and it’s very humbling. I don’t want to let her down now.”

With that, Duff had committed to one of the biggest challenges of her life and her career.

But, before she can set foot on Mongolian soil, she will need to raise the funds to get there. With travel costs, equipment, entry fees and other necessities, Duff needs to raise $15,000 and the Sun., Aug. 5 deadline is fast approaching.

For those wanting to donate, every amount helps. Duff has set up a page for both donations and pledges to CHEO at www.libertylanefarm.net.

Asked if she believes she will finish the 480 kilometer trek across the unforgiving desert terrain riding on horses that she has never seen, Duff was immediate and certain in her response.

“Yes I will finish. I will finish. Even if there are no horses left and even then at that point I’ll cross the line walking if I have to,” she said. “It’s emotional for me. In any relationship, whether it’s you and your horse or you and your child, it’s two-sided. Whatever you give, I give back. Whatever I give, I get back.”

If giving is the true indicator of character, Duff is an uncontested leader because she gives more and with purpose with each new challenge. That is to be admired and applauded.