Following in the footsteps of his idol Terry Fox, one Quebec man on a cross-country journey stopped in Merritt on Tuesday.
Athlete and teacher Steve O’Brien is taking to the road in a unique cross-Canada adventure to inspire children the country over by making the 11,000-kilometre trek in ways they might choose to do it.
“I got into schools and I said to the kids, ‘If you were crossing Canada, which way would you do it?’” O’Brien said.
He left the schools with 10 different methods: the standard walk, run and bike; and also via rollerblades, scooter, longboard, skateboard, snowshoes and cross-country skis.
O’Brien also has a wheelchair and an adapted bike that’s pedalled by hand, which he said he chose to incorporate to represent the people with special needs he has worked with in schools.
Without trying to fill Terry Fox’s worn running shoes, O’Brien is taking on the trek to send kids across Canada that message of perseverance.
“He sent a message that will never be forgotten,” O’Brien said of his childhood idol. “The guy had no technology, running on one leg, an old Adidas running shoe, a van that stunk like all hell, and the guy just kept going and going.”
He’s also raising money for the Steve O’Brien Foundation, which distributes funds to schools and youth programs across the country.
In the past, the foundation has purchased items for school libraries, gym equipment, art supplies and basic necessities for students in need.
The foundation will keep track of where all the dollars raised come from and redistribute them to youth programs in the provinces they’re donated from.
Along with being a gym owner and a teacher, O’Brien is a three-time gold medallist from the World Olympics Masters Games in the 400-metre sprint.
The indefatigable 50-year-old is taking on the eight-month journey from Victoria to St. John’s with a ceramic hip he had implanted last year.
He spent the year after his hip surgery training and gathering sponsorships.
O’Brien left his hometown of Lachute, Que. on April 7.
Although in his first two weeks it’s been mostly smooth sailing, there have been some rough days, he said.
“The other day, I was coming down one of the hills and I didn’t think it was very steep, but it was 10 per cent,” he said. “I was on my rollerblades. So at one point, I decided to just jump in the ditch. There’s no way I would’ve made it down that hill at that speed.”
O’Brien plans to cover about 50 kilometres a day, but in the first two weeks, ended up covering as many as 90 kilometres in a single day.
Having arrived in Merritt a day early, O’Brien took his opportunity to visit with principals at five Merritt schools to tell them about his trip.
In each town or city he passes through, O’Brien is recruiting schools and youth programs to organize their own relays and submit the number of kilometres they cover in their relays online at the foundation’s website.
“In the end, we’re going to see who did more: the old man or the kids,” he said.
O’Brien estimates the tour will cost between $40,000 and $50,000.
His major sponsor is Meglab, a Quebec mining company.
Although raising money for community causes is the purpose for the tour, at the heart of the journey is O’Brien’s message of youth empowerment.
“We want the kids to be the shining stars of the cross-Canada tour,” he said. “I’m just the teacher making sure the kids are doing it right. They’re carrying that relay stick across Canada for me.”