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Children motivate man on long walk

Bart Zych takes a well-deserved break in Trail before resuming his walk to Calgary. - Guy Bertrand
Bart Zych takes a well-deserved break in Trail before resuming his walk to Calgary.
— image credit: Guy Bertrand

A Vancouver business man who is walking from Hope to Calgary to raise money for disadvantaged children made it through Trail Friday with his sights set on the greatest challenge, the Salmo-Creston.

Forty-year-old Bart Zych is hoofing it 1,100 kilometres for his cause, iforCommunity Project, and has set a goal of raising $50,000 for the Children's Aid Foundation, an organization that works to enhance the lives of neglected kids in Canada.

Last year, he broke his knee cap so severely that doctors didn't think it was fixable and he was handicapped for three months before getting back on his feet again.

The second chance at walking, a simple pleasure taken for granted, paired with disheartening news of Amanda Todd's suicide due to bullying, the Sandy Hook shootings and other violence against youth set him in motion.

He woke up this past December and decided he would lace up and challenge himself to push others to give to the most vulnerable – children.

He's doing it for “Canadian kids, who are neglected, disadvantaged, homeless because these types of kids don't receive the proper mentorship, education and care and they grow up with a higher potential of committing crimes, bullying, as well as being victims                                              themselves.

“I felt specifically that I had to do this for Canadian kids because there are so many charities helping kids overseas but I believe that we have to start at home,” he said.

It's been a tough journey for Zych, who left his comfortable home in the West End of Vancouver (where he is a business instructor) to rough it in the wild.

With a goal of 30 km of stretch per day in mind, Zych drove his car to Hope to start his trip on June 17.

Nearly three weeks later, he made it to Trail after a gruelling climb over several summits and knee jerking finish down the Rossland hill, where he thought his knee might give out completely.

“I've been thought of as a homeless and vagrant and at the same time I was given this T shirt in Grand Forks by the mayor,” he said. “It's been the highest ups both mentally and physically to the lowest lows.”

Mother Nature has not taken it easy on him, either.

The first two weeks of his travels it rained for nine days. Some of his limited essentials – a tent and sleeping bag – were soaked and so were his spirits.

A couple soggy weeks of torture nearly broke him.

“We take for granted the simple things that we have and enjoy every day like a bed, like a roof over our heads and a shower,” he said. “I came this close, really, within an inch of giving up.”

But reflecting back on who he was doing this for and looking at his financial tally go up on his website, gave him the strength to carry on.

He arrived in Trail with a mean sun/dirt burn, a free T-shirt, an aching knee, and the desire to jump in the Columbia River like no other.

In Rossland someone offered to buy him some groceries but other destinations en route his hunger led him to ask grocery store mangers for throw away produce. To his surprise, he was handed beautiful ripe fruit and vegetables that we're considered garbage by standards due to its remaining shelf life.

The challenge has been physically trying on the man with 16 pieces of titanium in him (if you count his recent brake, repairs to his hand after a car accident and an ACL surgery) but the mental climb has been the toughest part.

“I've learned how little we need to be happy and how much people, who have all these things that we take for granted, just want more and more and more,” he said. “How much we get focused on ourselves and I'm not just saying this about other people, I'm talking about myself as well.”

With modified jogging strollers to pull his gear – few sleeping comforts, water, a dwindling food supply and technology to map his progress – Zych has surrendered himself to the great outdoors.

His route along the Crowsnest was met with kindness from some people and glares from others, including wild animals.

“Sleeping outside in the wild is similar to sleeping in a city, where you're constantly shooed away, because you have your ears open and you can't go into a nice deep relaxing sleep because you're constantly aware of things,” he said. “I’ve been in someone else's home and they have bigger teeth and claws.”

He now knows what it's like to be thirsty, (really) tired and extremely hot and cold.

He was at a good place when he left the Times' office Friday, ready for the next leg of his journey, though probably unprepared for the monsoon weather that swept through in the afternoon.

To help him reach his goal, visit www.iforCommunity.org and to show further support like the project's Facebook page.

 

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