© — Photo by The Joe Gibbons/The Telegram
Former Canadian Olympic boxer Mike Strange (centre) poses with Macdonald Drive junior high students Caroline Keats and Christopher Pike during a visit to the school on Wednesday. Strange starts his 3,800-kilometre BoxRun for Children’s Cancer in St. John’s this morning.
Former Canadian Olympic boxer starting second BoxRun for Children’s Cancer in St. John’s today
Boxers don’t usually like road work. It’s a necessary, but gruelling part of their training.
Ask most and they’ll tell you they’d much rather be at the gym, sparring in the ring, away from the elements, and in the company of others.
Mike Strange is about to do some road work, and he knows it will be far more physically excruciating and mentally-draining than a thousand of the daily runs who used to make when he was one of Canada’s top amateur boxers.
And he’s more than happy to do it.
Ask him, and he will actually tell you he is honoured to have the chance to put one foot in front of the other for more than 3,800 kilometres over the next 90 days.
There will be pain and there will be a test of his overall constitution, but if there are low moments, any small doubt about his effort will be erased by the images of four young people painted on the RV that will accompany his run from St. John’s to his hometown of Niagara Falls, Ont., and the thoughts of thousands more like them, who have dealt with, or are dealing with childhood cancer.
The 43-year-old Strange leaves Mile Zero in front of St. John’s City Hall at 8 o’clock this morning on his second BoxRun for Children’s Cancer. His first was in 2012, when he ran from Thunder Bay, Ont., to Victoria, B.C., the uncompleted portion of Terry Fox’ Marathon of Hope from 30 years earlier.
Strange raised $100,000 two years ago as he covered more than 3,100 kilometres and wore out seven pairs of running shoes. He hopes to increase that to $1 million as he treks the eastern half of the country between now and Aug. 9, when he expects to finish up.
“I know, from my experience in 2012, how hard this will be at times,” said Strange. “But overall, it will be easy, because what it is about and who it’s for.
“When my knees are sore, when I’m suffering from shin splints, when my feet are killing me, when my mind starts to go a little blank, or when I start to think too much — and I know all that is going to happen, I’m not kidding myself — all I have to do is remember the kids,” says Strange, who will do the equivalent of 90 marathons in 90 days.
Those marathons actually started with a quarter-mile on a Niagara Falls track in 2011 in a run-walk-wheelchair fund-raiser called Heater’s Heroes, which Strange started in honour of Bob “Heater” Lavelle, a friend and mentor of Strange during the latter’s international boxing career, which saw him represent Canada at three Olympics, win a gold medal as a light middleweight at the 1998 Commonwealth Games and being named this country’s boxer of the year in 1996.
Lavelle, well-known as a volunteer in the Niagara region, especially on behalf of children’s causes, died of pancreatic cancer in 2009.
It was during the inaugural Heater’s Heroes event that Strange met Kelsey Hill, a young girl with a brain tumour, getting to know her as he pushed her around the track in a wheelchair. Her courage and those of others like her inspired Strange to start planning his 2012 Northern Ontario to British Columbia run.
Kelsey died the December before Strange started out from Thunder Bay. But her memory made him even more determined. So did his friendship with Matteo Mancini, a 12-year-old who lost his left leg to osteosarcoma, the same form of cancer that had struck Fox.
Mancini joined Strange for portions of the 2012 run in Thunder Bay and Winnipeg, and was to do the same in Regina. Then came word that the cancer had spread to the youngster’s lungs and that the reunion would not happen.
The news hit Strange harder than any uppercut that had ever come his way.
“I broke down emotionally. I cried. I’ll admit I even thought about quitting,” he said. “But just as if people knew what I was going through right then, I started receiving all these phone calls and messages encouraging me to keep going.”
And he did, crossing the vast openness of the prairie, hopping road kill and scaling the Rockies, his long days often welcomingly made a little shorter by local runners who accompanied him as he pounded the pavement.
In early July, he reached Victoria 40 kilograms lighter and with a daily diet that included three painkillers. But despite all he had just been through, Strange was already thinking about what he could do by running the other half of Canada.
That thought becomes a reality this morning on what will be an extremely bittersweet day for Strange, for it is the one-year anniversary of Matteo’s death.
More loss. Another touching memory. Additional inspiration. The propelling knowledge that there are many, many more kids like Kelsey and Matteo.
“Everything they have to go through and all they put up with and mostly they do it with smiles on their faces. It tears at your heart and makes you realize that your own troubles mean absolutely nothing,” said Strange in a halting voice.
“I remember when I used to start to complain about taking one (pain) pill and what it would do to my stomach. Then all I would have to do is remember Matteo, who had to take 26 pills a day to stay alive.
“To see how brave these kids are, to listen to their stories, is really humbling.”
Strange will gladly share those stories with anyone who would like to join him on one of the eight segments of five-and-a-half kilometres he will do daily. You can see the pictures of Kelsey and Matteo on the van, along with those of Nick Roma and Brandon Caruana, two other Niagara-area youngsters whose cancer battles continues.
And you will know why Mike Strange runs.
To donate to BoxRun, you can do so by going online at www.boxrun.org/donate.html. If you want to get more involved through an effort of your own, you can request a pledge sheet by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
All monies raised will be split between the Stem Cell and Cancer Research Institute in Hamilton and Ronald McDonald Houses across the country. Half of all proceeds realized in this province will be directed to the Ronald McDonald House in St. John’s.
To learn more about BoxRun and Mike Strange’s motivation, visit boxrun.org
BoxRun starting locations in Newfoundland:
Today, St. John’s
May 9, Conception Bay
May 10, East of Conception Bay
May 11, Whitbourne
May 12, Bellevue Beach
May 13, Come by Chance
May 14, Clarenville
May 15, Charlottetown
May 16, Glovertown
May 17, Gander
May 18, Glenwood
May 19, Bishop Falls
May 20, Grand Falls-Windsor
May 21, East of South Brook
May 22, Springdale
May 23, Mount Seemore
May 24, Deer Lake
May 25, St Jude’s
May 26, Corner Brook
May 27, Stephenville
May 28, Flat Bay River
May 29, East of North Branch
May 30, South Branch
May 31, Port aux Basques