Running, biking and riding across Canada for a cause

Maclean's archives: With dozens raising money this way, it's getting harder to get noticed

Jacques Boissinot/CP

From the Maclean’s archives, published July 13, 2012: 

Kieren Britton can see the light at the end of the tunnel of her cross-Canada bike tour. Two months after starting out from Stanley Park in Vancouver, the 21-year-old has been on her red, 27-speed Devinci Caribou every day to raise money for prostate cancer in memory of her grandfather. Before she reaches the East Coast, she expects to be passed by Ross MacKinnon and his three brothers, biking across Canada to raise money for Parkinson’s research, also inspired by their late grandfather. And when the MacKinnons first set off from the West Coast, they crossed paths in Mission, B.C., with a trio known as 8000km, who are cycling coast to coast on an Easter Seals fundraiser. “It’s incredible, this group of five Quebec people were ahead of me by two hours, and I know [another woman] is behind me a day,” says Britton, now in New Brunswick. “You bump into people all the time.”

Terry Fox inspired a nation with his cross-country Marathon of Hope, and raised a huge amount of money for the fight against cancer. In the years since, increasing numbers have taken up the journey for equally noble causes. But getting noticed is proving a feat in and of itself. The fact is, Canada’s criss-crossing arteries are jam-packed like never before with people traversing the country for a cause. There are walkers, runners, rollerbladers, and even a knight in shining armour, Vincent Gabriel Kirouac of Quebec, riding on horseback to raise awareness of “honour and friendship and valour.”

Just how many people are undertaking the journey right now? It’s impossible to say for sure, but it’s not far-fetched to suggest 50, perhaps even as many as 100. Talk with one person crossing Canada and he or she will tell you about two others doing the same thing. Speak with those two and they will tell you about two more.

This poses a challenge for would-be fundraisers trying to gain attention. “I didn’t realize how many people do it,” Ross MacKinnon says. “It’s cool to see, but at the same you get that competitive flare, like, ‘We have to try and get ahead of them because most newspapers wouldn’t want to do a story on the exact same thing a day apart.’ ”

Now on foot and running west, Troy Adams and Curtis Hargrove are in regular contact, despite never having met one another. They heard about each other’s journey through their respective fundraising pages and call each other occasionally to chat about important factors like weather and road conditions. “There’s this community that I didn’t even know was out there,” Adams says.

The two will meet each other soon. By their estimates, Hargrove, 23, is expected to overtake Adams near Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., in the next few weeks. But this isn’t a race to the finish, they say. It’s about why they run. For his part, Adams is near Barrie, Ont., pushing northward, halfway toward his goal of $100,000 for brain injury awareness. He suffered a brain injury when he was 16, which plunged him into depression, but found that running helped him recover. “It brings out more of a story than just the plain old ‘man running across Canada,’ ” Adams, now 25, says. “I connect with the people in towns who read my story and see we have something in common.”

More people have been reading about Hargrove lately, but not for the right reasons. He was arrested in early July for running along the Trans-Canada Highway in Quebec. “People post online, ‘what a great way to get media attention,’ but they don’t realize that I do have a chance at having a criminal record—and that will affect me,” he says. “I wouldn’t do something stupid like that just to get media attention.” Even so, after the arrest, traffic on Hargrove’s fundraising page spiked, with many people coming forward to support him and the Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation. He has an ambitious goal of raising $1 million and, though he admits he’d brought in just $14,000 before his arrest, he believes his target is still achievable.

Standing out is only going to get harder as the number of cross-country charity runners grows, says Michael Nilsen, with the Association of Fundraising Professionals. “Are they as effective as they might have once been in terms of the novelty factor and the uniqueness? I think we can safely agree they’re not,” he says. “But I’m not convinced that these types of campaigns are necessarily ineffective because you can still raise significant amounts of money.”

After all, as common as the feat seems nowadays, people realize it’s a punishing physical undertaking. It can take longer than two months of cycling daily to cross from one side of Canada to the other. Even the fittest of runners would easily take twice that long.

It also takes money, which means crossing Canada for charity remains the domain of people with time and resources. “Everyone keeps asking, ‘How do you finance this?’ ” says MacKinnon, who adds he and one brother are living off student loans, while their other two brothers work as a teacher and an oil rig hand, respectively, both with downtime this summer. “It’s probably the only time in our lives it could work out like this.”

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