In less than two weeks, Whistler native Zachary Nevin will embark on a journey that will take him 6,000 kilometres across Canada. Biking an impressive 200 to 300 km, or four to six hours, per day, Nevin and his two teammates are aiming to complete the route from Vancouver to Dalhousie, NB in under 28 days.
So why would three 19-year-olds take up such a challenge over their summer break? Nevin has a very personal reason. His uncle, Peter Borwein, suffers from multiple sclerosis, a common, yet presently incurable neurological disease.
“I remember when I was about 10 or 11 years old, my uncle started to walk with a cane. Later, he started to occasionally use a wheelchair. As the years passed by, I witnessed his condition slowly deteriorate more and more,” said Nevin. “Though, through all of it, he has found the strength to remain cheerful and optimistic. I have always respected him tremendously for that.”
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system. What causes MS is unknown, but nerve damage is triggered by the inflammation produced by the body’s own immune cells attacking the nervous system. As the nerves are damaged, the signals they send out start to slow down or stop. The end effect is that a person with MS slowly loses control over her/his body and the unfortunate outcome is full paralysis.
Nevin is especially passionate about this disease because he believes that by putting MS in the public spotlight he can help raise much-needed funds to search for a cure.
"Multiple sclerosis is a disease that needs long-term public awareness and a strong research commitment, much like HIV did about 30 years ago,” he said. “Decades ago, HIV was essentially a certain death sentence. Now it is a chronic, but often manageable, illness. The same can happen for MS.”
Last summer, Nevin was startled into action after watching a sudden decline in his uncle, who was once a prominent mathematician at Simon Fraser University. He wanted to do something for his uncle and for others suffering from MS — but what?
He started to deliberate about small fundraisers and events, but he soon realized to make the impact he wanted he would need to do something much bigger. Luckily he had a good childhood friend to turn to.
Christopher Schrader founded the Youth Endurance Network (YEN) in 2010. YEN is a Hong Kong-based voluntary platform run by students, for students, aiming to inspire young people to contribute their abilities to causes greater than themselves through endurance activities. When Nevin called Schrader they discussed a fundraiser that would not only raise money, but inspire people as well.
Both keen endurance and adventure athletes, they set about planning a trip that would hit the headlines and push MS into the public arena. After many sleepless nights Nevin and Schrader decided that cycling across Canada would be a challenge that would tick both boxes. They set about developing their plan.
Adrian Cortes also decided to join the team, putting his endurance biking and survival training to good use. From Heredia, Costa Rica, Cortes is part of his hometown’s biking team, and part of the “Tejones,” a voluntary rescue team that assists the local emergency services when natural disasters occur.
In little over a year what was initially a dream has fast become reality. Nevin has been training in Pemberton and D’Arcy, putting in about 100 to 200 km in an average training day.
As the start of the adventure looms, he said he’s both excited and anxious about the journey ahead.
“Most of all, I am excited at the prospect of inspiring people across Canada to take a stand against MS and to show them that they can be part of something much bigger than themselves,” said Nevin.
The team’s goal is to raise $100,000 in aid of ending MS. Along the way they will be stopping off and meeting with various MS chapters in hopes to raise awareness, show their support and engage with the people of each town and city.
Filming as they go, Nevin and his teammates also want to turn the expedition into a documentary that can continue to inspire people once the challenge is complete.