Rick Fall spent much of a hot, sunny June 13 running along 257 Provincial Road from Maryfield, Saskatchewan to Virden, arriving at Lions Tourist Park in the mid-afternoon. Relaxing at a picnic table with his dog Razzle napping next to him, the cross-country runner pondered where he’s been and what’s to come before settling down for the evening at a campsite offered by the Virden Lions Club .
“I’m halfway through the country now, but there are still a lot of miles to go,” he said.
The Sioux Ste. The Marie, Ontario native’s trek across Canada began on April 12 in Victoria, British Columbia, near his hometown of Duncan. With his wife Colette near him in a motorhome with decals and sponsor logos, he has covered more than 2,100km of his 4,200km. km trip so far. The local stage added another 35.94 km to the counter.
Fall aims 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 foundations that are way underfunded, and it’s all coming from donations they’re getting,” he said. “Make-a-Wish Canada grants wishes to children with critical illnesses and helps families support the children in their dying years or just fulfilling their lives. Childhood Cancer Canada helps fund the families who need to bring their children for treatment and (have) medical expenses, and it also helps with research.”
Fall has been personally touched by cancer.
“My mom died of cancer in 2013, and that’s about the time I committed to doing this run,” he said. “It is related to that and I also let a few sisters-in-law die of cancer.” Fall’s niece got a wish from Make-a-Wish Canada before she died.
As he traverses the counties, Fall uses social media channels to spread the word about his case and allow people, including distant friends and relatives, to track his whereabouts. This also motivates him to persevere.
“I do a Facebook live in the evening and then I do a post for the day,” he said. I use an active app on my phone called Strava and I post on that too. Anyone who has the Strava app and follows me is tracking my daily events. It motivates me to do it. I know people follow and watch. If they weren’t there, not that I think I would, but it would be too easy to drop it and stop or slow down. Now that I know these people are there, it has inspired me to keep going. I inspire them to do it myself. I don’t want to disappoint people. I said I would do this, so I’ll keep doing it. I take breaks when I need to slow down when I need to, but still try to rack up miles every day if I can. ”
The “Fall-o-Rick” run was inspired by the efforts of Terry Fox, who was forced to leave his Marathon of Hope in 1980 after his cancer returned.
“Originally, my wife and I worked with the local Terry Fox Run in Sault Ste. Marie and one of my fellow runners said we should continue Terry Fox’s Run or something like that,” he said. “So, it’s always stuck in my mind…that was about 11 years or so ago…and about 5 years ago I said I was going to do something. I didn’t want to try to continue or finish Terry Fox’s Run because he is a Canadian idol. No one will take anything from him, so I thought I would do something else.”
During his career in education, Fall has seen firsthand how cancer has affected young children.
“I’ve come across some kids (with cancer) that I’ve seen in schools I’ve taught,” he said. “I have seen children who have had cancer, beat cancer, succumbed to cancer… realized that childhood cancer is much more than people think they are, and found that childhood cancer research is way underfunded.”
On the open road, it has endured its fair share of challenges, including rain, snow, wind and more.
“I was prepared for any weather,” he said. “We’ve had a bit of everything. “The weather has actually been on our side most of the time. Vancouver Island was hot and dry…the Fraser Valley was hot and dry. When we went into the mountains we ended up getting rain, a little sleet, nothing major. ”
Fall had a lot of headwinds on British Columbia’s Coquihalla Highway.
“Normally we get wind from the west pushing up the hill, but I seemed to get all the wind off the hill. It made it a little harder, but I slowed down, dug in and kept going.”
“I ended up in a heat wave with Regina. I got up at 1:30 am, hit the road at 3 am and finished my run by 10 am and then had the rest of the day to relax.”
There have also been some photogenic moments, some of which his wife records in a scrapbook.
“It was just so amazing to be able to go through the mountains in slow motion,” he said. “I’ve been through the mountains a few times. I can stop and take a picture… I can stop in awe of the surroundings, while driving you can’t stop for a penny and just enjoy the scenery.”
The sight of a grizzly bear in Glacier National Park in BC caused some anxiety, and Fall was grateful for the motorist who drove him safely past.
“I’m glad I saw him,” Fall said. “I’m glad I wasn’t attacked and was on the other side of the metal of a vehicle when I passed it.”
He also spotted a smaller black bear near Banff, Alberta.
“Leaving the mountains, entering the livestock was also really impressive, and then the kindness of the people as I entered Calgary… just the open road. From Regina, I got off the main road and went through all of Saskatchewan’s rural towns. They are all so positive and so friendly everywhere we stopped. I wish I could stop and spend time in each of these cities, but I would never come home if I did. And now, when we go from Highway 48 to Manitoba, the people are so friendly.”
Traversing four provinces, and part of a fifth, with a global pandemic still rampant, has made fundraising a challenge.
“When I started the flight, we were at about $11-120,000.00 and now we’re at about $50,000.00,” Fall said. “Unfortunately, I can’t go to school to give presentations, visit companies or give presentations at service clubs. That would have helped a lot to expose (the cause) and get people to fund it. I’m over half way through the country now, so if we make more than $100,000 to split the two foundations, that’s good.”
He hopes to see the donation total grow as he goes home.
The original plan was to complete the run in 2020, but the uncertainty surrounding COVID forced a postponement until this year.
“People didn’t know what was happening with COVID. Places were closed… We didn’t know what wouldn’t be open and what wouldn’t,” he said. “We are fairly isolated in our camper. We just have to stop for fuel and food. We have just continued to follow local and provincial standards and have had no problems at all.”
Fall estimated the journey would take 100 days, averaging 42 kilometers — a full marathon — per day. He hopes to be home in early August.
“I’m a few miles short of what I originally said I was going to do, so I’ll keep running until I get to 4,200 miles,” he said. I’m not going to stop running… I’m just going to keep helping people inspire. The donation link will be there, and I will be helping the two foundations in an effort to encourage people to know about this and raise money for them until after the New Year.”