TORONTO October 22nd 2012. Runners waiting nervously for the start of last weekend’s Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon had little idea that one man amongst them was about to successfully complete his third successive run around the 42km course.
Jean-Paul Bedard stood next to Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne when she fired the starter’s pistol looking haggard and pale then joined her in the second wave. They would run the first five kilometres together before the 49 year old Torontonian pushed on, completing a staggering total of 126.6 kilometres.
Bedard was running to raise awareness of campaigns to combat sexual assault. As he ran with the Premier, the pair discussed ways Bedard could be part of the Liberal government’s #ItsNeverOk campaign. The Premier was interested in having a male voice and she could not find a more articulate nor, sadly, a more appropriate candidate.
When he was 12 years old two men took Bedard to a ravine and raped him. For years he suffered psychological issues including depression, drug and alcohol addiction. He attempted suicide.
Two years ago he finally revealed to his wife Mary-Anne and their adult son what had happened to him. He entered a treatment centre for victims of sexual violence. Running, he says gave him back his life.
Initially he was going to embark on his epic run around midnight Saturday. But when Premier Wynne’s office confirmed she’d be delighted to run with him it meant he had to alter plans slightly for security purposes.
“I started a bit earlier,” he recalled. “It is not a great thing to have a lot of gap time between marathons. I had no down time between 1 and 2 and I planned a very short gap time between 2 and 3 but because of this we had to go a bit longer. And then when we saw the weather forecast and how cold it was going to be we realized it was not going to end well.”
He laughs at that statement. The temperature was hovering below freezing when he began with only his wife in support around 10:30p.m. Saturday night. A photographer, Edison Yao, accompanied them recording the adventure. Bedard says he often experiences a dodgy stomach and had to be careful with his refueling during the race.
“I ate my big meal at noon Saturday and then had some toast later in the afternoon before I went out,” he continues. “Then it was just gels and PowerBars every once in a while. And between each of the marathons Mary-Anne gave me rice cakes and peanut butter.
“I was trying to run each of the first two marathons in 4 hours 15 to 25 minutes – in that range. That would include the time of running, the time of running towards a car to get something to eat and then time to get to the start because the start and finish aren’t in the same place.”
Twice he stopped to do live television interviews. Mostly he ran on the roads. He chose to run the first ‘lap’ alone but was joined on the second by runners of different abilities.
“The hardest part of this whole thing was getting the first one done,” he says. “I had my phone on me and it was just beeping the whole time I was running. There were messages coming in all night.
“The second one went really well. I finished that and I got in around 7:30 a.m. and then I got the second medal put on me. Then we had to try to make our way to an area to get changed. I was quite wet from running in the damp for so long.”
Shivering and suffering from the effects of having run 84 kilometres in freezing cold temperatures he had to be ready to meet the Premier before security was further heightened. When he reported to the official start with the 26,000 other runners he was warmly greeted by the Premier.
“I was walking towards her and she saw me,” he recalls. “I was completely pasty, my lips were blue and I was shaking and wrapped in blankets. She had her staff around her and she pushed them aside and just wrapped her arms around me and said ‘we have got to warm this guy up.’”
After she and her security team reached the 5 kilometre mark he ran with another victim of sexual assault, named Athena. This young lady was a ‘friend of a friend.’ She had been sexually assaulted while running in a Toronto park just two months before the marathon. And she was tormented by the ordeal.
“Every time she ran it would bring up all the issues with the sexual assault,” Bedard explains. “So I said ‘why don’t you run with me and I promise I will stay with you.’ She was worried about slowing me down. I said ‘I will have run two marathons, it’s not about time, it’s about getting it done.’ After the Premier pealed off Athena and I ran together.
“There were points where I wanted to stop and there were points where she wanted to. Then we hit a really low point after about 22km. We were on an isolated part of the course on Bayview. It’s quiet there. It’s nice to run on but when you are suffering it’s not the place to be.”
As they slowed to a walk and contemplated dropping out, a group of runners dressed as characters from the Justice League comics literally came to the rescue. They recognised Bedard and offered support.
“They were supporting us and so I just said to Athena ‘listen I am not crossing that finish line without you,” Bedard continues. “If it takes us five hours to get through this last two k it takes us five hours, I don’t care. We are crossing this line together. So stop crying and let’s not talk about this again.”
Bedard texted Canada Running Series staff to keep them abreast of their location.
“When we came up Bay Street with 300 metres to go I looked over at Athena we both started to cry,” Bedard reveals. “We crossed the finish line holding hands with the ‘Superheroes’ right behind us.”
“It was the most emotional thing. We wrapped our arms around each other hugged and kissed. It was a special moment. It was exactly why I was doing this.”
With three finisher’s medals hanging around his neck he set about answering the thousands of messages sent from victims and supporters around the world. Three days after the run he was still dealing with them. People were asking where they could donate money.
Running four consecutive Toronto Waterfront Marathons is not in the cards, Bedard says. But fundraising is very much on his mind for 2016.
“I have talked to Alan (Brookes) about this,” Bedard says. “In New York they have Fred’s Team (named after New York Marathon co-founder Fred Lebowitz). I would like to find a way of bringing more people in and make a team. I want to raise awareness while tapping into a huge way of raising funds.”