‘He’s Seen a Lot of What I’ve Been Through’: Enfielder Paddling Connecticut to Help Cousin’s Cause

Dan Jette, of Enfield, left, and Andrew Davis, of East Thetford, are paddling the Connecticut River to raise funds and awareness for Crohn’s disease, which affects Jette’s cousin. (Valley News - Libby March)

Dan Jette, of Enfield, left, and Andrew Davis, of East Thetford, are paddling the Connecticut River to raise funds and awareness for Crohn’s disease, which affects Jette’s cousin. (Valley News - Libby March) Purchase photo reprints »

Enfield — Dan Jette recently made a resolution to do more for others. Next month, he’ll cover 235 aquatic miles to prove it.

Jette, of Enfield, and East Thetford resident Andy Davis will take to the Connecticut River in kayaks, paddling from the Northeast Kingdom to the Massachusetts border to raise funding and awareness for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America.

Jette’s first cousin, Janelle Baliko, of Leonardtown, Md., suffers from Crohn’s, an inflammatory bowel disease affecting the gastrointestinal tract. Jette, who grew up in Lebanon, has regularly visited Baliko since childhood and has seen the adversity the disease as put her through.

The 41-year-old Baliko has endured six surgeries and had a total of more than 40 inches of her small intestine removed, as well as eight inches of her large intestine, since being diagnosed at age 12.

“I’ve always thought of her as like a little sister, and it’s just amazing, the type of person she is in the face of all of this,” said Jette. “I went through some personal trouble of my own in 2011-12 and did some soul-searching. One of the things that came out of that was that I wanted to do more for other people and not be as selfish. There’s nothing I’d rather do than something in honor of Janelle and (to) fight for a cure for what she goes through.”

Jette, Davis and Baliko have already amassed $7,200 of their $10,000 target to benefit CCFA, a nonprofit organization dedicated to finding cures for Crohn’s as well as colitis, which causes inflammation of the colon or large intestine.

Jette and Davis will enter the river in Canaan, Vt., just south of the Quebec border. Baliko will come to the Twin States and join the pair for the second half of the journey, entering at Bradford, Vt., on what will likely be Jette’s and Davis’ sixth day on the water.

“It’s hard for me to describe how much it means to me, that my cousin would bring so much attention to Crohn’s and do this for me,” said Baliko in a recent phone from her Leonardtown home. “Dan used to come here in the summers. He was really close with my brother (Eric), and he’s seen a lot of what I’ve been through.”

The northernmost 130 miles of Jette’s and Davis’ journey are the most challenging, with meandering oxbows, narrow sections and unpredictable currents. Jette and Davis hope to average about 23 miles per day while utilizing the series of riverside campsites known as the Connecticut River Paddlers Trail.

“There’ll be some portages at the beginning, some sections where we have to carry the boat around dams,” said Jette, who’s been kayaking for about five years. “There’s a section near McIndoe Falls (Vt.) and Monroe (N.H.) that I’m told can be Class III and Class IV water, so we might have to hopscotch that section.”

The river begins to widen and flow more smoothly near Bradford, where Baliko will join the duo for the second half of the journey. Other family members may come along at Bradford or Orford for the stretch leading to Wilder Dam.

“That’ll be a Sunday, so we’re gonna take a break, get out of the water and have a cookout with some friends and family,” Jette said. “We’ll probably stay home that night, and some of our friends might join us the next day for the section leading to the Windsor-Cornish covered bridge.”

It’s not the first foray into CCFA fundraising for Baliko, who did a sky-diving excursion to benefit the organization from 2003-’05, the latter two events sanctioned by the organization. It was something CCFA leadership at the time wanted to be an annual fundraiser, she said.

“They were so happy the first time I came to them with a check (for $4,000), they wanted to make it a more of a national event,” Baliko recalled. “I thought, ‘Oh, boy, what have I gotten into?’ but I thought it was great and we had a awesome turnout the following year. In 2005, we had this fabulous turnout with eight different locations for people to sky dive.

“After that, CCFA got a new executive board and they put a stop to it for liability concerns, which is understandable. They started focusing more on walk-a-thons and things like that.”

Baliko only began kayaking last year, when her time in the water was limited by treatment. She’s a bit nervous about joining Jette and Davis, even for the second, tamer half of the journey. Yet she can’t wait to get started.

“It’s going to be so amazing. I have a little bit of anxiety about it, but Dan promised me he’s going to get me down the river, no matter what it takes,” she said. “I have every confidence in him.”

Jette isn’t surprised his cousin is raring to go. After all, he’s seen her overcome obstacles since childhood.

“She never complains, she just takes everything on,” Jette said. “She’s someone who loves to celebrate life.”

More info or to donate: www.stayclassy.org/fundraise?fcid=217776.

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.