"Run in" with Jamie McDonald

Meeting Jamie outside of Metrotown Hilton

Over the last 11 months, the remarkable 27-year-old British Jamie McDonald has been running across Canada with one mission: to raise money for children’s hospitals.  He had a rare medical condition as a child, and spent the first 9 years of his life in and out of hospital.  Jamie felt the need to give back after making a full recovery, and was inspired by the story of Canada’s national hero, Terry Fox.  He started his run at the east-most point of Canada in Newfoundland, and his final destination would be Vancouver—nearly straight across the Trans Canada Highway from coast to coast.  Jamie ran for eleven months, unsupported, pushing all of his gear in a baby jogger wearing a super hero costume—Flash from Marvel comics—to raise money for children’s hospitals in the UK and Canada.

I found out about Jamie’s journey a few months back when my friend Leslie ran with him in Alberta. About two weeks ago, I sent Jamie McDonald a Facebook message asking if I could join him for the last section of his run into Vancouver.

The next day, I received a message back from Jamie with his phone number.  We chatted on the phone and I continued to follow his progress through his website, Facebook or Twitter accounts. Jamie was taking things one day at a time, but he had picked February 3rd for his finish, and a few days later he posted his plan.

Using his tracking website and Twitter, I learned he was staying in Burnaby at the Metrotown Hilton, and he mentioned he would be leaving around 10:00am. So that morning, myself along with three other runners including my friend Dave, and Solana, Nikki had come to meet Jamie in the lobby. A older man named Dennis was also there with his bike, he had been travelling with Jamie for the last few days and was quite the character! An hour later, Jamie came out of the elevator in his now faded and worn Flash costume. He was joined by his dad dressed as Captain America, and a few of Jamie’s close friends Jody and Rich had also travelled from the UK to join him for the end of his epic journey.

We all got to meet Jamie and take some pictures before we set on our way. I was a little concerned as I had run 100km over the previous two days during the week-long Vancouver Bagel Chase (stay tuned for more on this in my next post). Though the race was still going on, I couldn’t miss out on the opportunity to run with Jamie. Jamie had been running for more than 200 hundred days; had banked over 8000 kilometers in his legs, so I felt I really had nothing to complain about. It also turned out Jody was not a runner, and had run 12 miles (20km) his longest run the day before. Jamie was running effortlessly, while the rest of us had to work to keep up. He was still pushing the baby jogger he affectionately named Caesar, which was filled with all his gear. He also had his trusted camera on a stick he had been using to film his adventure for since day one.

 We hadn’t planned a route yet, but one of his friends recommended we take the Bike/Foot path instead of the main road since it would be safer for a group our size.

We started running down the Terry Fox path, but Jamie wanted to take the high-traffic, busy and dangerous Kingsway route. It has been important for Jamie to be seen by as many people as possible in order to attract more attention to his cause.

During the run I was just hoping we wouldn’t get hit by a car--it wouldn’t be a good way to end his trip--but Jamie had been running on the road for almost a year straight,  and it seemed he knew what he was doing.  That and the superhero costumes made our group hard to miss; my guess is that the Flash costume actually made his run much safer. Dennis, on the other hand, was riding his 3 wheel bike on the wrong side of the road, this road being Kingsway Ave, one of the busiest roads in Vancouver. We definitely got some attention, though not all of it good!

Jamie was running, filming and sometimes on the phone all at once. One phone call he received informed him that BBC wanted to do a Skype interview in about 15 minutes. We were tasked to find a coffee shop or somewhere with internet so we could have a good connection. We all pulled out our smartphones and started to hunt.  We of course assumed that, being in Vancouver,  there would be a Starbucks on every corner, right? Wrong. We we couldn’t find anything!  Eventually, Dave came to our rescue by sprinting ahead of us, eventually finding U.N. Me Coffee House.  The cafe had wireless internet and thankfully, a washroom, since none of us wanted to slow Jamie down, by the time we got to there, we all desperately needed it!

While Jamie skyped with the BBC for the interview, they asked if he was on schedule to finish by 1:00pm as planned.  He responded by  mentioning that he had to stop running for the interview, but he would be done sometime today. To Jamie, his schedule is more of a guideline, and after running as long as he has, he’s learned that you can’t time things down to the minute because anything can happen, such as today’s last-minute BBC interview.

We eventually made it onto King Edward Street where were we were surprised by a Flash mob—well, a family with Julie (@BumblebeeBlogs) that had met Jamie in Alberta, who has been so inspired by him that they flew to Vancouver to cheer him on. Everyone had a Flash-themed outfit on and their son Ryder was in a full Flash consume that had “Super Hero in Training” written on his cape. After hugs and photos, we continued along with 2 of flash girls. Our group was growing.

Flash Mob

 Once we were a few blocks away from BC Children’s Hospital, we were met by a police escort and kids from a local school. It was a great way to welcome Jamie to Vancouver. There must have been about 50 kids with us, it was really fun to run with such a big crowd of his supporters.

Running into BC Children's Hospital
Jamie (Flash) and Donald (Captain America) at BC Children’s Hospital

After about 30 minutes of interviews we were ready for the run into downtown Vancouver to the Terry Fox memorial.

We were given a full police escort to take us down Cambie Street and over the bridge, was amazing to have such great support from the Vancouver Police. It was a perfect day, with clear blue skies, as we ran down Cambie Street we had a great view of the city, ocean and mountains.

Craig with Jamie at Terry Fox Memorial

Dave was given a camera to help film the end of Jamie’s journey. He told me while we were at Terry Fox Memorial that the memory card on the camera had just ran out. We still had the last and most important section to go, the final official end when Jamie would place his hand in the Pacific Ocean 275 days after he had started. Luckily we were downtown, so I went off on a mission and after running to 3 stores, I found a memory card on Black’s on Robson Street only just in time as they started to head towards the ocean.

Our police escort waiting to take us to English Bay.

The police closed down Robson St. for us, it was great to be able to run down one of the busiest streets in Vancouver, and we even got a few more people to join us. Jamie was so strong and feeling so good on his final run some people couldn’t keep up, so we had to keep telling him to slow down! He was still pushing the heavy baby jogger full of gear, and there was also a toddler riding on the jogger to boot.  Yet even with the little girl, people could hardly keep up--Jamie is much stronger than he looks.

It was around 4:00pm as we started down Denman St. toward English Bay.  The sun was getting low in the sky and had turned the water a beautiful gold color. We ran down, cheering Jamie on, but I could sense his feeling, after 11 months his journey was almost over and he had done it.  He told me that he doubted his ability to finish every day, until this day when he knew he was going to make it. All his aches and pains had gone and nothing could stop him now.

If you’d like to support Jamie’s cause, visit his website: www.jamiemcdonald.org, where you can learn more and donate.  His YouTube videos document his entire journey from the beginning, and they inspiring as well as extremely entertaining.

Congratulations, Jamie!

Jamie goes for a little swim
Saying goodbye to a cold and wet Jamie before running back to continue Bagel Chase.
blogCraig Slagel