Just before midnight on Saturday October 17 Jean Paul Bedard – JP to his friends – will toe a the starting line outside Toronto’s University Avenue courthouse and run two circuits of the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon.
If he has timed it just right he will have thirty to forty minutes rest before joining 18,000+ other runners – who will raise $4 million for local charities – as the official IAAF Gold Label Race begins. By the end of the day he will have run a triple Waterfront marathon – a whopping total of 126.6 kilometres!
The 49 year old has battled demons in the past including alcohol and drug addiction, suicide attempts and depression. He has overcome much but there is nothing crazy about this incredible physical challenge.
“The first thing in this is an awareness campaign,” Bedard says. “I am almost 50, I am a recovering alcoholic and addict, I have been sober for a little over 18 years. I spent a lot of time beating myself up with different substances kind of masking what was going on inside.
“About two months before the Boston marathon in 2013 I finally disclosed to my wife and adult son, who was 23 at the time, that I am the survivor of childhood sexual abuse and rape.”
Bedard ran a little over three hours for the Boston marathon that year – he has a personal best of 2:57 – and admits that he was an emotional wreck as he tried to come to terms with having shared his past. Midway through the race he broke down crying and hyperventilating. Nevertheless he completed the race. After showering and changing at the hotel he and his wife walked out onto the marathon course. That was when the terrorist bombs exploded.
The whole experience proved overwhelming and he reckons he was suffering Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. But with his family’s support he entered a treatment program at The Gatehouse which helped him and helps other adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse. The impact of the treatment was enormous.
“I got my life back,” he declares. “For such a long time running was a kind of escape, running away from myself, turning off my brain all that stuff but, through this program, I started looking at running as a way to kind of run back into myself and come to terms with all of these things in me. It became almost a spiritual practice.
“And I was so grateful to the program at Gatehouse, how much everyone there had helped me. I decided I would go back to Boston the following year and try to raise money for the Centre and, also, raise a little bit of awareness for childhood sexual abuse especially. There are very few male advocates out there. I got in touch with (retired NHL star and victim of sexual abuse) Theo Fleury and asked for help and he has been instrumental in helping me find resources.”
Returning to Boston in 2014 he decided he would do a ‘double marathon’ setting out from Boston in the reverse direction to meet up with the official entrants in time for the official start. The logistics were quite complicated. Security had been enhanced a year after the bombing but in the end he raised more than $25,000 for The Gatehouse.
The idea of doing a triple Toronto originated during a conversation he had with Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon race director Alan Brookes.
“I have an affinity to the Canada Running Series and to Alan,” Bedard explains. “I have run this marathon 10 times, this will be my 11th, 12th and 13th time running STWM. Alan is like the race ambassador. He is not in it for the cash he is in it for the love of the sport. He said ‘JP it’s great what you did in Boston but it’s going to be hard to outdo that.’ That was the genesis of the triple Toronto. I am not sure what happens next year!”
Bedard laughs as he relates this tale. Formerly a school teacher he is now a full time writer with a book coming out next Spring called ‘Running Into Yourself.” It deals with the subject of running to combat depression, anxiety and traumatic events. In a typical week he puts in roughly 200 kilometres. Thankfully he has a shoe sponsor as he goes through a pair of shoes every three to four weeks.
At this point he is still sorting through logistics for the Waterfront Marathon. His wife will likely accompany him in the car during the first two loops and he expects three or four ultramarathoners he’s enlisted will jump in and out at various points.
Bedard is not fundraising this time. He says you can only go to the well so often. Keeping the topic of rape and sexual abuse at the forefront is his aim especially since more than a dozen women have come forward accusing former CBC personality, Jian Ghomeshi, of assault.
“I have also been associating with these two twitter campaigns,” Bedard says, “one of those broke just after the Jian Ghomeshi scandal, the #BeenRapedNeverReported campaign and also the (Kathleen) Wynne government’s #ItsNeverOkay.
“I was the victim of sexual abuse by a hockey coach when I was younger but I was also raped in a ravine by two men when I was 12 years old. I have never told my story. So part of it is to run and keep this story front and centre. Leading up to the Jian Ghomeshi trial it’s important to keep it out there.”
Committed to marathon running, Bedard says he runs ten to twelve marathons a year mostly in the 3:10 – 3:15 range. For the triple Toronto he will scale back his pace to ensure he can cover this massive distance.
“I would like to target each of those first two marathons around 4 and a half hours, somewhere around that,” he declares. The time does not matter in any case.
“I think the three things I would like to accomplish are number one, keeping the conversation toward sexual violence in our community at the forefront, because I think we are at the turning point where we will see change in that dialogue. The second thing would be just to show the resiliency of being able to overcome the trauma and challenges in our life. I would like to show that despite the trauma I went through in my childhood, the addictions and depression and suicide attempts and all of that, I am still going.
“And I think the third element would be just to kind of show just how community building running is, and choosing the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon was the perfect vehicle for that. I think that is everything that race embodies.”
To join JP on the Start Line, register for Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon at www.stwm.ca