It is a big weekend in Monaco for water sports. The Riviera Water Bike Challenge (RWBC) and Monaco-Athens Paddle take place back-to-back on Sunday, June 5.
The two events start from the Monaco Yacht Club, at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. respectively, and are tied into the Princess Charlene of Monaco Foundation. No surprise, as the Foundation has a unique ability to shine a light on Monaco’s sense of community and sportsmanship while bringing women to the forefront. Olympic marathoner Paula Radcliffe, Olympic alpine skier Pernilla Wiberg and model and TV presenter Victoria Silvstedt, also a former downhill skier who competed against Wiberg at national level.
Coastal rescue champion Stephanie Barneix is involved with both of Sunday’s fundraisers. The 47-year-old has been race director of Monaco’s favorite water race dating back to RWBC’s first edition in 2017 and also oversaw “The Crossing: Calvi–Monaco Water Bike Challenge,” which Princess Charlene participated in back in 2020.
One of the disciplines of coastal rescue is paddle boarding. “We also use paddle boards to save people from drowning. It is a very effective piece of equipment, Barneix tells Forbes Monaco.
After ensuring the 19 teams competing in this Sunday’s RWBC race are safe in the sea, Barneix will embark on her own charity challenge, the Monaco-Athens Crossing, paddling 1,890 kilometers from the Monaco Yacht Club to Pireas, the main port in Athens. It will take Barneix and her four Cap Optimist teammates (pictured) fifteen days to achieve their goal. On arrival, the women will be greeted by Annika Horn and Jessica Horn, the daughters of adventurer Mike Horn.
“For several years, I have been helping the Princess Charlene of Monaco Foundation with drowning prevention,” she explains. “As race director for the Crossing, I met Sophie Tsouvelekakis and Safia El Malqui and suggested raising money for the Foundation by selling kilometers in the Monaco-Athens paddle.”
Barneix, who started swimming at the age of one, adds, “Everybody can help us by buying kilometers.” Proceeds go to drowning prevention and sport education by the Princess Charlene of Monaco Foundation in Greece. The Monaco-Athens paddle will also support the 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 says 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. “For 14 years, I was selected for the French team and then turned to long distance with my participation in the famous Molokai to Oahu paddle board. After my first cancer I had the urge to cross an ocean in 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.”
Barneix and five “other incredible water women” are attempting a world record in paddle—a journey of approximately 8000 kilometers between Peru and Moorea during the winter of 2023—to benefit children.
“Three of us are mothers and we are doing this for our children ... for your children .. Sport has helped me cope with disease. Physical activity is a medicine. It has allowed me to better resist the treatments, and the practice of physical activity decreases the risk of recurrence.”
The Cap Optimist team created the Hope Team East association to help people overcome disease through sporting challenges. “Paddling for us is a means of expression and it is also a means to help vulnerable children. Sport can help in life to overcome any ordeal.”
Their Monaco-Athens paddle will serve as a training for the Pacific crossing next year. Barneix shares that Sophia Tsouvelekakis (president of the Hellenic Community of Monaco, owner Brooks Brothers Monaco) and her husband Konstantinos helped with the organization of the Monaco-Athens Crossing. “The whole Greek community is behind us. It is important to have people who believe in us.”
The conditions on the Mediterranean can change from one minute to another. “There can be wind—we are paddling on our stomachs very close to the water—and a lot of maritime traffic, too. We are going to take turns day and night so we also have to factor in limited visibility at night and seasickness.”
The Riviera Water Bike Challenge starts at 10 a.m. from the Monaco Yacht Club with the bulk of the relay race taking place in front of the Solarium on the Prince Rainier III digue. The public can watch live or online where donations can also be made. At 2 p.m. RWBC race director Stephanie Barneix and her team will start out on the 1890-km Monaco-Athens crossing. There is still time to buy kilometers.
Departure photos (Eric Mathon/Palais Princier) taken Sunday, June 5.