Twenty five years ago, I stood at the side of the road, waiting. Now that I can appreciate the undulating hills of the major thoroughfare that cuts through my parents' neighbourhood, I can only now marvel at what it would have been like to roll through the hills of eastern Toronto.
All those years and miles later, while the memory of those like Terry Fox harden in the Canadian consciousness as our prove that winters and toughness define us, I reflected about the daunting challenge that national heroes faced. What happened when they faded from the crowds and faced a lonely road.
I've only travelled to Thunder Bay once. It was on the way back to Toronto on an cross-country trip I was taking in the weeks after Sept. 11, 2001. What pierces through my mind, among memories of listening to CBC radio and propelling as far away from the realities of war and news, was that the country was so vast, the landscape from the Rockies to the flat expanses of Alberta and Saskatchewan to the curvature of the roads leading from the northern Ontario back to civilization.
Thunder Bay, and all the roads carved out of the Canadian Shield, brought an awe of how many kilometres it was between major points on our map. Over air, a cross Canadian tour flashes beneath as you cruise by and glance down at the tiny farm plots or mountain ranges. Looking outside a front seat of a car, as you stare and endless scape, it all comes home about how far you have to go.
On foot, on a wheelchair, it must feel like infinity.
My Garmin that I activated in the fall of 2008 has racked up more than 5,000 of miles, more than enough for me to go from coast to coast. I marvel as I pull up the Total Activity that I chip away at distance day by day.
A few Saturdays ago, while I was adding 6.2 miles to the lifetime pedometer, I came across a caravan holding up traffic on a major shopping street. As I came across the scene, I was surprised to see none other than Rick Hansen on his 25th anniversary tour.
Seeing Rick transported me 25 years into the past, 13 miles away, and up the road from my parent's house. Back then, distance was logged in the five minute bicycle rides along the confines of my neighbourhood, or running was done in the school yard from the portable classroom's door to the track about 100 metres away.
Transfixed, I was back then, when Rick rolled by on Kingston Road, and we cheered. Now, I'm even more awestruck as I finally understand the miles he bore, the hills he rolled up, the endless man in motion who on this clear day 25 years later was taking his time, stopping to say hello.
I paused my Garmin, stood, and clapped as he rolled by, and looked on admiringly for a minute or two. If I had a chance to say hello, I'd tell him how I and others ran in his shadow, and how I grew up to be an endurance runner. And that as a runner I still could not understand what it would take to do what he did day in and day out. And that by no small part did he and Terry inspire me and all others as we go long distance.
As he rolled along, I ducked down a side street back home. As I finished the run and up the hill, there was a spring in my step. Perspective more than perspiration fuelled me.
I had just spotted a hero.
Roll on, Rick. Roll on.