Male Runner of the Year
Jamie McDonald was running alone in the darkness, pushing a 60 kg stroller with all his possessions alongside the mountainous old highway around Lake Superior when it started to pour freezing rain. “There wasn’t a single house anywhere,” said
McDonald. “The only way to keep warm, to keep me alive really, was to keep running.” He realized he was still about a week away from the Terry Fox monument in Thunder Bay, Ont. “I knew I was in trouble. The only thing that kept me running was the thought that Terry Fox had run this exact same route, but with cancer; that inspired me.” McDonald ended up logging 55k that day, one of the longest stretches of his solo run across Canada.
Just a little over a year ago, the 27-year-old was working as a tennis teacher in Gloucester, England, saving money to buy a house. As a child, he’d suffered from a rare genetic disorder called syringomyelia and spent much of his childhood in and out of hospital. “I woke up one morning and realized that the reason why I was saving for a house was because everyone else was doing it.”
McDonald did something drastic. He left his hometown by bicycle and continued for 22,500 kilometres to Bangkok. Along the way, he raised thousands of dollars for the children’s hospital where he spent his childhood and became a national hero. “I had no idea how big a deal my cycling trip was going to become,” McDonald said.
“When I got back to England, the bbc interviewed me and the first question they asked was, ‘What are you doing next?’ I had a working visa for Canada because I thought I might go there to work after the bike trip. I found myself saying that I was going to run across Canada.”
On March 9 McDonald was in St. John’s, N.L. running west down the side of the highway.
His goal is to reach Victoria by Christmas and become the first person to ever run across Canada unaided. As with his transcontinental cycling adventure, McDonald is raising funds for children’s medical care. So far, he’s raised over $65,000 for hospitals
and foundations in every province that he’s running through. “I wanted to give people the opportunity to donate in their own community,” McDonald said. “I felt that was going to make a bigger difference, and it is.”
He was doing about 50k a day all the way to Winnipeg, but developed a crippling case of foot tendonitis. “I’ve had it for the last two months. My front toe is starting to turn in. I’ve been told I would need to take months off for it to heal, so I just keep running.”
McDonald believes that his success is mostly a matter of ignorance. “I start out every single day not knowing what will happen. I don’t know where I’m going to sleep. The moment I start planning is the moment I begin to become abso- lutely terrified with what I’m doing.” He says the second he starts running it seems to relieve the pressure of what he’s going through. “I don’t know how, but things always work out,” he said. “A person appears on the side of the road to help, or a farm house pops up on the horizon during a storm and I’ll go knocking on it. I’ve got to believe it will work out every single day when I wake up, and it does.”
With the winter fast approaching, McDonald is facing increasingly severe conditions. Yet the connection he’s made with people across Canada on Twitter and Facebook has made it possible for him to continue. Near the Manitoba border there was no sign of refuge for two days.
“I was preparing myself once again for camping in the ditch and spooning cold tinned fish into my mouth. And then a Facebook follower from Winnipeg just turned up in a huge camper van and I got a bed that night in the middle of nowhere.”
The happiest moment for McDonald was running around Sick Kids hospital in Toronto. It was a big detour, an extra 15 marathons worth, to come down to Toronto. “Running around with the kids, some of them dressed up as superheroes because I do, was really inspirational.”
McDonald says he will be carrying that memory with him as he tackles the toughest part of his journey: running over the Rocky Mountains. “I’m really afraid,” McDonald confesses. “But I know I can do it. I just have to get out there every morning and start running.”