Rick Fall spent much of a hot, sunny June 13 running along Provincial Road 257 from Maryfield, Saskatchewan to Virden, arriving at the Lions Tourist Park in mid-afternoon. Relaxing at a picnic table with his dog Razzle napping beside him, the cross-country runner reflected on where he’s been and what’s yet to come before settling down for the evening at a campsite provided by the Virden Lions Club.
“I’m over halfway across the country now, but there’s still many miles to go,” he said.
The Sioux Ste. Marie, Ontario resident’s trek across Canada began in Victoria, British Columbia, near his hometown of Duncan, on April 12. With his wife Colette travelling near him in a motorhome emblazoned with decals and sponsor logos, he has covered over 2,100 km of his 4,200 km journey so far. The local leg added another 35.94 km to the tally.
Fall is aiming to raise $300,000, to be split between Make-a-Wish Canada and Childhood Cancer Canada.
“The biggest message I'm trying to get across is that the two foundations are two small ones that are far underfunded, and it’s all from donations that they go by,” he said. “Make-a-Wish Canada grants wishes to children with critical illnesses and helps families support the children either in their dying years or just to help fulfill their life. Childhood Cancer Canada helps fund the families that need to bring their children for treatment and (have) medical expenses, and it also helps with the research.”
Fall has been touched by cancer personally.
“My mother passed away from cancer in 2013, which is about the time I was committing myself to do this run,” he said. “It's tied in with that and I've had a couple of sisters-in law pass away from cancer as well.” Fall’s niece was granted a wish from Make-a-Wish Canada before she died.
As he traverses the provinces, Fall uses social media channels to spread the word about his cause and allow people, including far-flung friends and relatives, to follow his whereabouts. Doing so also motivates him to press on.
“I do a Facebook live in the evening, and then I do a posting for the day,” he said. I use a running app on my phone called Strava and I post to that as well. Anyone who’s got the Strava app and is following me, they keep up on my daily occurrences. It keeps me encouraged to do it. I know people are following and watching. If they weren't there, not that I think I would do it, but it would be too easy to drop it and quit or slow down. Now that I know these people are there, it’s inspired me to keep on going. I’m inspiring them that I'm doing it myself. I don't want to disappoint people. I said I would do this so I'm continuing to do it. I take breaks when I need to slow down when I need to but still try and get in the mileage every day if I can.”
The “Fall-o-Rick” run was inspired by the efforts of Terry Fox, who was forced to abandon his Marathon of Hope in 1980 after his cancer returned.
“Originally, my wife and I were working with the local Terry Fox Run in Sault Ste. Marie and it was mentioned by one of my fellow runners that we should continue Terry Fox’s Run or something like it,” he said. “So, it (has) always stuck in my mind…that was about 11 years or so ago…and about 5 years ago I said that I’m going to do something. I didn’t want to try to continue or finish Terry Fox's Run because he's a Canadian idol. Nobody will take away from him, so I thought I'd do something a little bit different.”
Throughout his career in education, Fall has seen first-hand how cancer has affected young children.
“I've run into a number of children (affected by cancer) who I've seen in schools where I've taught,” he said. “I've seen children that have had cancer, beat cancer, succumbed to cancer…realized that children’s cancers are a lot more out there that people think they are, and finding out that research for children's cancers is far underfunded.”
Out on the open road, he’s endured his share of challenges, including rain, snow, wind and more.
“I was prepared for all weather,” he said. “We've had a little bit if everything. “The weather's actually been on our side most if the way. Vancouver Island was warm and dry…through the Fraser Valley was warm and dry. Getting into the mountains we ended up getting rain, a bit of wet snow, nothing major.”
Fall encountered a lot of headwinds going along the Coquihalla Highway in British Columbia.
“Normally, we get wind from the west pushing up the hill, but I seemed to get all the wind coming down the hill. It made it a little tougher, but I just slowed down, dug in and kept on going.”
“Close to Regina I got into a heat wave. I got up at 1:30 in the morning, got on the road by 3 o’clock and finished my running before 10 and then had the rest if the day to relax.”
There have been some photogenic moments as well, some of which his wife is documenting in a scrapbook.
“It was just so awesome to be able to go through the mountains in slow motion,” he said. “I’ve been through the mountains a number of times. I can stop and take a picture…I can stop in awe of the surroundings, whereas when you’re driving you can’t stop on a dime and just take in the scenery.”
The sight of a grizzly bear in Glacier National Park in B.C. created some anxiety, and Fall was thankful for the motorist who drove him safely past it.
“I'm glad I saw him,” Fall said. “I’m glad I wasn't attacked and was on the opposite side of the metal of a vehicle when I passed him.”
He also saw a smaller black bear near Banff, Alberta.
“Leaving the mountains, getting into cattle country was really impressive as well, and then the friendliness of people as I crossed into Calgary…just the open road. From Regina I got off the main highway, going through all the country towns of Saskatchewan. They're all so positive and so friendly, everywhere we stopped. I wish I could stop and spend time in each if these towns, but I'd never get home if I did that. And now, going from Highway 48 into Manitoba the people are so friendly.”
Traversing four provinces, and part of a fifth, with a global pandemic still prevalent has made fundraising a challenge.
“When I got started on the run, we were sitting at about $11-12,000.00 and now we’re at about $50,000.00,” Fall said. “Unfortunately, I can't get in and do school presentations, go and visit corporations, or do presentations at service clubs. That would have helped a lot for exposing (the cause) and getting people to help fund it. I'm over halfway through the country now so if we make over $100,000.00 for the two foundations to split, that's good.”
He hopes to see the donation total grow as he heads into the home stretch.
The initial plan was to complete the run in 2020, however the uncertainty surrounding COVID forced a postponement until this year.
“People didn't know what was happening with COVID. Places were shut down …We didn't know what was not going to be open and what wasn't,” he said. “We're pretty well self-isolated in our motorhome. We just need to stop for fuel and food. We just kept on following the local and provincial standards and haven't had any real issues at all.”
Fall estimated the journey would take 100 days, averaging 42 kilometres – a full marathon – per day. He aims to be home in early August.
“I'll be short a few miles from what I originally said I was going to do, so I’ll keep running until I get up to the 4,200 kilometers,” he said. I’m not going to stop running…I’ll just keep on helping to inspire people. The donation link will be out there, and I’ll just help the two foundations, trying to encourage people to be aware of them and keep on fundraising for them until after the new year.”