For most of his childhood, Jamie McDonald was in and out of children’s hospitals in Britain.
Now that he is a healthy adult, McDonald is doing everything he can to help children who are in the same situation he was as a child. In rapid succession, he cycled from Thailand to his home town of Gloucester to benefit the hospital where he received treatment, and then set the world record for stationary cycling.
Then, on a bit of a whim, he set off to run across Canada to raise money for Canadian children’s hospitals.
He hadn’t run long distances before, but he has been running the equivalent of a marathon every day in Canada, with the funds raised going to different children’s hospitals across Canada.
The running has been hard on his body, and McDonald ended up staying with the Toder family in Elkhorn to rest a sore foot, and sought treatment in Moosomin.
The idea for the cross-Canada run came on the spur of the moment, Jamie says.
“When I finished the world record, the BBC invited me into the studios. I thought that was amazing—I was just a boy from Gloucester. Everyone said what are you doing next, what’s the next big adventure.
“I didn’t have anything planned, but I had a working visa for Canada, so I came up with a mad idea to run across Canada. I didn’t know what to say, so I said I’m planning to run across Canada, and here I am.”
While many people who set out on cross-country treks do so with a full entourage and a precise schedule, McDonald is doing the run on his own, often sleeping in his tent by the side of the road and relying on the kindness of strangers.
“I’m winging it—it’s all evolving naturally,” McDonald says. “When I started this journey no one knew what I was doing out here. Nothing is planned so it’s like proper Forest Gump moments.
“I often knock on people’s doors and ask if I can pitch my tent. Fortunately at this time of year, they’re often asking me in. The hospitality here is somewhat special.”
McDonald had a tough childhood marked by medical problems, and many visits to doctors and hospitals.
“I had a whole year off school,” he recalls. “It all cleared up, and the way I remember it, it was through movement. I started using my body, using co-ordination. Through playing tennis and being more active it seemed to disappear. That’s one thing I’m trying to encourage as well—I think everyone can benefit from being more active.”
The trek has been an adventure for McDonald, who has run into wildlife, gone through several pairs of running shoes, and raised tens of thousands of dollars for Canadian children’s hospitals.
“I did see my first ever bear,” says McDonald. “For a brit to see a bear is not really natural. I crouched down and I videoed it and I was staring at it. When I stood back up I felt faint.”
He said the most memorable part of his journey so far has been passing through the area near Thunder Bay where Terry Fox was forced to abandon his Marathon of Hope.
“I was going through the mountainous areas near Thunder Bay. It was a huge milestone, and to think that Terry Fox made it that far but couldn’t finish, it brought tears to my eyes.
“He was an amazing person. To see the way he’s touched an entire nation is amazing.”
If McDonald has found out anything from relying on the kindness of strangers, it’s that you can rely on the kindness of strangers.
“It’s just amazing. People are doing everything they can to help me out. I feel I’m in one of the most vulnerable positions in the world, and it just seems like that brings out a desire to help in a lot of people.”
McDonald discovered the same thing when he cycled from Thailand to Britain, crossing some inhospitable territory in Central Asia along the way.
“I thought people in Iran wouldn’t be friendly, but when I got there everyone was inviting me in and offering me cups of tea. In Iraq I couldn’t pay for anything. When people found out what I was doing, they insisted on paying for everything for me.
“I’ve learned that the world we live in is big and friendly and we need to remember that.”
He finds Canada particularly friendly and supportive. “I love Canada,” he says. “People really understand what I’m trying to do. The fact your national hero is Terry Fox says a lot about Canadians.
“In England we always say ‘those Canadians are just so nice,’ and we’ve never met any Canadians.
“I can’t believe how generous people are. Canada’s just amazing for fundraising. I’m only at $12,000 on the English site, but I’ve raised $60,000 in Canada.”
McDonald is facing a tough few weeks running across the prairies, up mountains, and down to Vancouver. “When I reach Vancouver I’m going to fly home and spend Christmas with the family. I’ve been away for a while now, so it’ll be good to have some roast potatoes and gravy—not just any roast potatoes but mum’s roast potatoes.”
McDonald is shooting video across Canada for a BBC documentary once he’s done. So, what’s next for McDonald? “Now a lot of people say you have to do a book about what you’ve done so far, and I also have to fund the next adventure. Who knows what that will be—it’s a big world.
“I won’t be running across Canada again, I’ll tell you that. I don’t think I realized how big it is when I said I would do it.”
One thing he is considering is a tour of the country to speak about his adventure. “I would like to do another tour through Canada and actually share the journey. I want to take my time and share my journey and inspire people, especially kids to do some good in the world.”
McDonald says he is enjoying every minute of his adventure. “It’s once in a lifetime, so every single moment is special. Every person I meet will somehow change my life but I won’t recognize it until it’s all over.”
McDonald will have a few memories from the Moosomin area. He spoke to elementary students in Moosomin, dropped the puck at a Virden Oil Caps game, and met the crew at the Windsor Hotel in Fleming, his first stop in Saskatchewan.
While he was resting in the area for a couple of days last week to allow his foot to heal, he was looking forward to getting back on the road. “The last eight days from Winnipeg, I didn’t believe I could make it. I’ve got chronic tendonitis, but I’ve made it shis far. “I hope to just continue with it and just battle through the pain and the tears. It’s agonizing sometimes, but I want to make it.”
People can follow McDonald’s progress and donate at jamiemcdonald.org
February 2016Download PDF