KANSAS CITY, Mo. — When Traci Lynn Martin isn't caring for others in her role as a long-term care nurse at Truman Medical Centers University Health, she's trying to inspire them.
Her latest feat will be kayaking an estimated 2,350 miles along the length of the Mississippi River.
And being in her kayak, gliding through the water, is where she's the happiest. There, she can be one with nature and escape from the constant pain of her rheumatoid arthritis.
"Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease, and it's basically your body’s immune system is attacking your joints," she said.
An active, avid outdoorswoman, Martin was nearly sidelined when she was diagnosed in 2009, suddenly unable to participate in many of the activities she loved, such as backpacking and jogging.
"It’s hard," Martin said. "It’s hard when you're first diagnosed with something. It just feels like, you know, your world just drops out from under your feet."
While there are some things she can no longer do, she can still kayak. And she doesn't just go out for a leisurely paddle.
She's attempting to push through the pain and break a Guinness world record – kayaking the entire length of the Mississippi River.
"I am starting at the headwaters in Minnesota, and then I will be paddling all the way down to the Gulf of Mexico, which is mile marker zero," Martin said.
Besides packing her canoe, paddles and safety gear, she also has to bring supplies to camp on land each night. In addition to worrying about taking in the necessary calories to refuel, she also has to plan her eating schedule around other wandering predators.
"I’ll eat this in the mornings and then takeoff," she said, pointing to a ready-to-eat, freeze-dried meal. "I don’t want to eat this at night because of the aroma bears can smell food 20 miles away."
And those are just the dangers on land.
Once she reaches Louisiana, she'll have to worry about alligators.
"At first, they are probably going to look like they’re just a log floating on the water, but if you get close you’re gonna be able to tell it’s an alligator," Martin said, "and my goal is to just stay out of their way."
She'll also have to navigate barges and freighters traveling the Mighty Mississippi.
Martin said others who've made the trip typically take between 60 and 100 days.
She said she hopes to reach the Gulf of Mexico in 45, tracking her progress through GPS data.
If she's successful, she won't just secure her spot in the record books, she'll also proving something to herself – and others.
"You can still enjoy your life and you can still do things you always wanted to do when you were younger, before you were diagnosed with your chronic condition," Martin said.
Martin has been making waves in her field for years.
In 2017, she became the first person to circumnavigate the three largest lakes in North America in one calendar year.
To follow Martin's progress, visit her website.