Rich Ralph is a skater on a mission. After lung cancer struck a close friend, he wondered what he could contribute to the battle against cancer. He decided to raise money and awareness by undertaking a cross-continental skate from Canada's East to West Coast.
The 27-year-old sales rep from Vancouver started skating on May 8 in St. John's, Newfoundland, on the shores of the Atlantic. With his parents following behind him in an RV, he has finished about half (5000 kilometers) of the journey so far. He hopes to arrive at the Pacific Ocean in September, before the snow.
We caught up with him in Ontario via email for this interview:
What inspired you to spend the summer skating across Canada?
The inspiration came to me when a close friend of mine was diagnosed with throat and lung cancer at the age of 26. We're both young, active, non-smokers, yet he was the one diagnosed. I wanted to do something to raise as much money and awareness about cancer research as possible. A lot of people cycle or run across Canada every year, so I needed to come up with something more unique. I recently found out that I will be the first man to cross the country from St. John's, Newfoundland to Victoria, BC non-stop on inline skates!
How is your friend doing?
Adam is doing as well as can be expected. He's 28 now. He has had numerous surgeries on his throat to remove the tumor, but the cancer in his lungs is resistant to treatment. Doctors believe the cancer in his lungs is relatively non-aggressive, so they are just monitoring it for now. But he is a naturally optimistic person, and he has an incredibly supportive family. Adam and his family plan to meet me in BC when I finish skating in September.
Had you been skating for a long time prior to this trip?
I suppose you could say I was an inline skater. I used to do a bit of aggressive skating when I was younger. But in recent years I haven't done much, just a little casual skating around my hometown of Vancouver. I've never skated more than 10 km consecutively before I began training for this trip.
Has anyone skated the full length of Canada before?
I only know of one person who has successfully skated completely across Canada: Christine Ichim, who went from west to east in 1996. She was 19 at the time. I have heard of a couple others who attempted or only went partially across. Sheldon Kennedy (former NHL hockey player) apparently made the trip in the '90s, but there is a lot of controversy surrounding him. I've been told he had to stop in Edmonton due to a drug scandal.
I will be the first person to complete the journey from East to West non-stop, and I will cover more distance than anyone has attempted (10,000 kilometers).
How far do you go each day?
I like to get in 100 km a day whenever possible. My best day was about 130 km. I'm sure I could push myself to do more, but I try to pace myself, so that I won't burn out before I reach British Columbia. There has been a lot of bad weather, rough roads and hills to slow me down. But my average is still around 100 km per day.
What kind of skates are you using ... and how are they working out?
Rollerblade set me up with Marathon Carbon TF skates. Their definitely amazing skates. I don't have a lot of experience with speed skates, but these have been very comfortable and the wheels have been better than expected.
Foot problems sometimes develop for skaters on long trips. How are your feet holding up?
My feet are doing pretty good. I take preventative measures to ensure my feet will endure the continued punishment of a four to five month journey. I tape my ankles every day for a bit of added support and to stop blisters from forming.
Are you going through a lot of wheels?
I'm not going through as many wheels as expected. I'm on my fifth set right now. Not bad considering I'm over half way across the country! But who knows what will happen when I hit the Rocky Mountains.
What's the hardest thing about doing a cross-country trek like yours?
It's definitely a mental game. If the conditions are horrible, it takes a lot of energy to stay positive and keep going. For me, there's nothing more frustrating than skating into a head wind. I know in my mind that if not for the wind, I'd be going three times as fast. So I have to tell myself NOT to push myself too hard. There's no use burning myself out battling the wind. The wind will always win.
Conversely, when I have perfect conditions, it can get a bit boring. So the mental game continues. The Prairies should be interesting. The roads are so flat and straight. They say you can watch your dog run away for three days out there. It will be tough to keep my brain occupied for so long.
Have you found your journey easier or harder than expected?
That depends on what day you ask me. It's been a roller coaster. Some days have been exactly as I expected; some, harder; some, easier. No two days have been the same. That's been one of the hardest things ... not knowing what tomorrow will bring.
Are you having a good time?
Absolutely! You'll have to read through my daily journal (Rich's online journal). I have new adventures everyday. And I wouldn't trade any of these memories for anything. Even the bad experiences are priceless.
Has the trip changed you in any way? Has it been "life-altering"?
This journey has opened my eyes to an incredible world. I've been overwhelmed by the generosity of the Canadian people. I honestly expected a lot of skepticism from the public. But everyone has been very encouraging. I also thought drivers wouldn't be very accepting of me on the roads, but they've been pretty good with a few exceptions.
Plus, I'm getting the opportunity to see Canada at 20 km/h. You see some amazing things that most people miss. I'm very lucky to live in such a beautiful and diverse country.
You have raised about $20,000 (Canadian) so far. ... How do you raise money with a trip like this?
When I started out, I assumed most people would want to donate on my website. But I've found that people seem to prefer to hand money directly to me. It's an amazing feeling to have a complete stranger hand me $20 and then thank me. People can donate on the website (SeeTheEnd.com) or they can send checks, or they can hand me cash. I'll take donations however I can get them.
What's the most interesting thing that has happened so far on your trip?
I've got too many stories to tell them all. Everything from an attacking rabbit, to cuddly black bears, to celebrities, to steering a huge ferry!
My favorite moment came in Nova Scotia. I'd been skating for nearly two days without receiving a single donation. As I approached Halifax, a silver car pulled over in front of me. The driver, a woman, handed me a few dollars and apologized for not having more. (It is very common for people to apologize to me for not having much money. I always reply that if everyone gave me just $1, it wouldn't take long to hit my goal of raising $100,000.) I watched as she drove away and then pulled over again 50 yards down the road. When I skated up to the car again, the back door swung open and the woman's 8-year-old daughter got out. She held her hand out as I rolled up to her and she quietly dropped 91 cents into my hand. It was the single most symbolic moment of my entire trip. For an 8-year-old to be aware of what I'm doing and understand the need for help makes all the adversity worthwhile.
Is there anything other skaters can do to help?
Rich Ralph rolling through Quebec
Donate (donation web page). If nothing else, tell everyone you know about me and have them go to my site and donate. I'm a long way from my goal. With luck, some companies or corporations will hear about me and want to contribute, too.
Cancer sees no boundaries and neither should we. All donations are going directly to cancer research. I am not making a single penny for doing this. The fact that the donations are going to Canadian research programs is irrelevant. Research is research.
And for any Canadian skaters, please feel free to come skate with me when I come through your area. I'd love the company!
Copyright © 2007 by Robert Burnson