Article first published in July/August 2022.
It was a big day for charity and water sports with both the Riviera Water Bike Challenge and Monaco-Athens Paddle taking place back-to-back.
Nineteen teams in total gathered for breakfast and pre-race strategy for the third edition of the Riviera Water Bike Challenge (RWBC), organized by the Princess Charlene of Monaco Foundation. All funds raised supported the Foundation’s “Swim for Safety” project in Sri Lanka.
The Princess’ foundation has a unique ability to shine a light on Monaco’s sense of community and sportsmanship through charity events, all of which—whether swimming, golf, rugby or the 23-kilometer Riviera Water Bike Challenge relay—are 100% eco-friendly requiring only physical energy as fuel.
“Being passionate about sport is an amazing gift if one considers the values that come with it,” Princess Charlene wrote in an editorial. "Sport has the ability to change and save lives, to accomplish great destiny and empower people.”
And the RWBC exemplifies this vision of overcoming diversity and changing lives through sport. Newcomer to the race, 6’2” Edgard John-Augustin—aka the Bionic Body— lost both of his legs below the knee in a car accident when he was four.
John-Augustin, 37, told Forbes Monaco. “Up until five years ago, I always wore pants because I was ashamed. At the gym, I would get changed in the bathroom because I wanted to hide my prosthetic legs. Only a few people close to me knew because I was embarrassed to talk about the subject.
“Then one day I had a revelation. A professional photographer shot me as a para-athlete in shorts and posted it on Facebook. Even people who knew me but did not know about my legs said, ‘You should show the world anything is possible.’ I created my social media handle and it went from there.”
The married father of two added, “I try to show that it is about your mindset and how badly you want to reach your goal. I am blessed because people like what I am sharing.”
The 2015 European IFBB Wheelchair Bodybuilding Champion and fitness icon was on Team A&S Estate, with South African World Champion mountain bike racer Greg Minnaar, and finished second place after Team Serenity—Gareth Wittstock, Secretary General of the Princess Charlene Foundation, foundation ambassador Terence Parkin, Caleb Ewan, Philip Deignan and David Tanner—won with a time of 2 hours and 50 minutes. Team Interpadel (Bjorn Maaseide, foundation ambassador Thor Hushovd and Federico Vella) came third.
Shortly after the RWBC trophy presentation, and also tied into the Princess Charlene Foundation, the Monaco-Athens Crossing kicked off from the Yacht Club with RWBC race director Stephanie Barneix on the board.
It took Barneix and her four Cap Optimist teammates 14 days and nights to paddle the 1,890 kilometers lying on their stomachs. On arrival in Pireas, the main port in Athens, they were welcomed by Annika Horn and Jessica Horn, daughters of adventurer Mike Horn.
The 47-year-old Coastal Rescue Champion has been helping Princess Charlene’s foundation for several years with drowning prevention. As RWBC race director, she met Sophie Tsouvelekakis (owner Brooks Brothers Monaco) and Safia El Malqui and suggested selling kilometers in the Monaco-Athens paddle to raise money for the Foundation in Greece. The Monaco-Athens paddle also supported
ELPIDA—the Greek Association of Friends of Children with Cancer.
Cancer is a subject close to Barneix’s heart. The world record paddle boarder has had cancer four times—three times in the breast plus a radiation-induced sarcoma. Her first diagnosis was at age 28.
“I have a genetic abnormality of chromosome 17 that deactivates an allele-specific anti-tumor gene. I have had chemotherapy, radiotherapy, many operations and so on but I am alive!”
The mother of two said that “every check-up is stressful because there is so much at stake” but “nevertheless, thanks to cancer, I have started to realize my dreams. Cancer is a gas pedal for life.”
Barneix established her name in the sport of coastal rescue becoming a French, European and World Champion. “After my first cancer I had the urge to cross an ocean in a 3-person relay on a rescue board and we hold the Guinness World Record for Crossing the North Atlantic. We then went around Cape Horn and now we are heading to the Pacific next year.”
Along with five “other incredible water women,” Barneix will attempt a world record in paddle—a journey of approximately 8,000 kilometers between Peru and Moorea—during the winter of 2023 to benefit children.
The Cap Optimist team created the Hope Team East association to help vulnerable children overcome disease through sporting challenges. “Three of us are mothers and we are doing this for our children...for your children...
“Physical activity is a medicine that has allowed me to better resist the treatments and the practice of physical activity decreases the risk of recurrence. Sport has helped me cope with disease and it can help overcome any of life’s ordeals,” Barneix smiled.