White Lake woman overcomes adversities one stroke at a time


One catastrophe after another bombarded Cristi Harrington and her family when she decided it was time to focus on herself and bring positives into her life.

The hardships began when the White Lake resident watched her mother die from cancer in 2019. Her schedule was hectic as she flew back and forth to her family home in Colorado. She continued the flights to help her dad pack-up four decades of things the family accumulated.

Another blow struck in 2020 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer and she didn’t know what to expect. The craziness of the pandemic was in full swing and another tragedy struck when her brother died from COVID-19.  Meanwhile, she became increasingly overwhelmed from supporting other family members who were struggling emotionally with life changing challenges.

Turning it around

The tide began to change when she quit her teaching job of more than two decades as a physical education teacher in Redford and landed a new position at Commerce Elementary and Walled Lake Schools. She was finally closer to her home on the lake and her commute was much easier.

But Harrington knew she needed other stress relievers.

“I’ve gone through a lot,” she said. “It’s one foot in front of the other. You can’t control what happens to you, but you can control how you respond to it and your reaction changes everything. I realized that all I can do is be the best I can. When you surround yourself with positive people and positive life situations, life becomes better.”

So, in 2020 she started a bike club that involved a few women who rode around White Lake.  It got them out and moving. They began supporting each other through their different personal life battles.

As they rode, they gazed at the lake and they knew they wanted to be on the lake.  That spawned the launch of a kayaking group, White Lake Girls Club, in 2021.  This year between 40 and 70 women showed-up on White Lake every Thursday.  There’s around 425 members on their Facebook page.

“It’s our day to focus on us,” she said. “We are so busy taking care of everyone else’s needs. I’ve met and connected to so many people and it turned into a beautiful community event.”

Cristi Harrington leads the kayakers by             planning the routes every week

Each week they rode one of seven routes and sometimes they met at the White Lake Inn.  The kayaking usually included getting three hosts each week to provide beverages and food. In the end, they talked and enjoyed each other’s company.

“The good news is with that many girls some people think there has to be a lot of drama,” Harrington said. “But there really isn’t.  Not all the girls live on White Lake. A lot live nearby and they drop their kayaks in or they’re friends with people who live on the lake.”

Members come from all over Metropolitan Detroit, from Dearborn to Northville. All women, 21 and over are welcome. Women who want to join should go the White Lake Girls Club on Facebook and request to join. The only stipulation is to promise to abide by the club rules. Members range from 21 to 75.

“I tell people that their job is to meet someone new tonight and have the best time,” Harrington said adding there’s at least one or two new people every week.

Tina Yura, an original member of the club, said she got involved for several reasons.

Coming together

“I do it because I love community and being with people who come together for a common cause,” Yura said. “We all love nature.  We’re outside and getting some exercise and we’re getting to know people. This lake is big and now I know women from all around the lake.”

Kayakers Tina Yura (yellow) and Amy Iverson (pink)

Kayaking on Thursdays is her favorite night of the week.

“We’re out there to get to know each other and enjoy the beautiful setting we’re in,” Yura said. “This community is really special in that everyone is so kind.”

The last kayak outing was scheduled Sept. 29, Harrington said, adding, however, she wouldn’t be surprised if there were a few more in October, depending on the weather. Other events during the cold months are expected and will likely include a visit to a local winery or a haunted house. Last year, the group sang Christmas carols around the lake.

Harrington, 45, said she loves that the group isn’t exclusive to athletes–most people can kayak and there’s no need to practice, she said.  She tells a story about a member who was recovering from knee replacement surgery. Harrington and another member helped her in and out of the kayak so she could participate. The kayaking route is usually between one and three miles.

“It’s brought a whole new realm of women into my life,” Harrington said. “I love to hear other women’s stories. A lot of times it forces me, even when I feel tired, to be social. You’re so happy when you do it. We’re raising each other up through adversity and the pandemic. This is really great for our lake community.”

She watches the sun set on the water most days and she often says to others, “Aren’t we lucky to live here? Lake life does not suck.”

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