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Paddleboarding helps young Kalispell woman battle through cystic fibrosis

Crossing for CF
Crossing for CF QRIMG_6120.jpeg
Posted at 5:06 PM, Apr 10, 2023
and last updated 2023-04-11 13:33:13-04

BIGFORK - Paddleboarding is a fun way to get on the water, enjoy the summer and get a little exercise but for one young woman in Kalispell, it has completely changed her life.

“Having the dedication and like the determination to accomplish this goal of mine has really put in perspective what I need to do to be healthy, especially for someone with CF,” said Rylee Riekena who was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at three months old.

CF is a rare inherited chronic disease that causes the body to produce unusually thick mucus that clogs the lungs, affects the pancreas and stops the digestion of food. The disease affects 40,000 people in the U.S. and 80,000 worldwide.

“It definitely is harder to do day-to-day activities. But having the mindset of I can do it, and I will do it, with CF it kind of pushes you to get through,” said Riekena.

A big part of staying healthy with cystic fibrosis is being active.

Rylee has taken that to the extreme and will be paddleboarding 80 miles across the ocean from the Bahamas to Florida for the Crossing for CF.

“I needed to do something for myself and push myself knowing that some people see me as someone with CF is sick or some people are still surprised I'm here. I wanted to defy all the odds that people have set,” said Riekena.

Although the life expectancy of people with cystic fibrosis has skyrocketed in the last few years from 35 years old to around 60 years old. And at 24, that notion is pushing Rylee to enjoy life to its fullest.

“I want to push myself to reach these goals and these limits. I'm defying all the odds of CF,” said Riekena.

The Crossing for CF is an event that helps spread awareness and fundraise for the Piper’s Angels Foundation. The foundation helps patients and families with the medical costs of living with cystic fibrosis.

Rylee and the three other people in her relay team are fundraising for the event and Piper’s Angels Foundation.

“I know it can be really hard and really challenging with CF. But now that I've found something that has been my outlet and it's been such a positive experience, I want to share it with others with CF,” said Riekena.

Saltwater, low elevation and humidity have huge health benefits for people with cystic fibrosis, which draws them to warm climates like Florida.

“I think about when I cross that finish line coming across the ocean and seeing my family and my friends and the community that just empowers people like myself, with CF. All the tears and the emotion and I just can't wait to experience that for myself. There's still so much energy and passion and love in that community that it's untouchable. There's nothing that can top it, I don't think,” said Riekena.

Rylee will be participating in the Crossing for CF in June and until then she will be training in the Flathead.

If you would like to hop on a board and join Rylee in her training, she will be posting the time and location of her paddles on Instagram, rylee_marie15. You can also contact Rylee to talk about donations, sponsorship or questions about CF at

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