Kristie Lefebvre’s reaction was understandable when her husband Jimmy suggested they pack up their three younger children for four months and head from their home in Grande Prairie, Alberta to a location just outside St. Louis, Prince Edward Island.
The twist was that he would be walking alongside their motorhome for the entire 5,716 kilometre journey.
“I seriously thought he was crazy,” she laughed.
“But it actually hasn’t been that bad, the kids have been learning lots, we took school on the road, and it’s been a great experience. They’re living what others are reading about in textbooks about Canada. And they’re also learning about the importance of giving back.”
The walk is about raising money for awareness, education and mental health supports for cancer patients and their families.
Adding to their lessons, the couple’s nine-year-old daughter and their eight-year-old twin sons, are also learning that there are many good and decent people willing to lend a hand.
“The people we’ve met along the way have just been phenomenal. We met Susan Stewart, she’s a cyclist riding across Canada. She’s been leaving some treasures for us along the way, just to kind of give us a boost, and make our day,” said Kristie.
“And just the people in the town’s we go through. Everybody that has been coming out and supporting us has been amazing. People have heart’s still. It’s awesome to see. Quite a bit of people have been pulling over to see if we’re okay, and that’s really nice.”
Jimmy's family left home May 1st and is planning to arrive at his father’s gravesite in PEI on August 31st, which would have been his father’s 72nd birthday.
The elder Lefebvre died of cancer in July 2016. The initial diagnosis was stage three lung cancer.
“I was trying to think of something I could do to not only commemorate dad but also to spur on Canadians to make healthier lifestyle choices. The walk just popped into my head one day and I took time to process it. About a year and a bit later I made the commitment. That was September of 2017," said Jimmy.
When the family started the journey in May, there was still snow on the ground.
And although the weather hasn’t been a big issue so far, Jimmy did have to walk through areas where smoke lingered from some of the northern forest fires.
Along the way, he has crossed paths with skunks, moose and even had a visit from a bear sniffing and pawing at the motorhome as the family slept on the side of the road.
But every step of the way, he thinks of the stories his father told him growing up, about the places he had been to in Canada.
“We went up through Hearst, Kapuskasing, Moonbeam and the Timmins area where dad was born and raised. That was special.”
What keeps him going are the inspirational stories he hears at stops along the way.
“We’ve heard from people who shared their personal stories about having gone through cancer and won, and some who have lost family members. It spurs me on to keep moving forward.”
He is currently logging an average of 46 kilometres a day, and has gone through five pairs of shoes, expecting to go through 12 to 15 by the time he is done.
To make his walk a little more comfortable, Andrew Greig from Foot and Sole in North Bay, donated a new pair of shoes so Jimmy can continue on his adventure.
“When you’re walking the distance he does, he goes through the shoes quite quickly, so we’re here to help him get on his way and reach his goal. Cancer touches all of us, and he’s trying to raise awareness, so we want to see him succeed.”
A civilian member of the North Bay Police Service, Aline Major learned about Lefebvre’s story and reached out to help.
“I contacted him and asked if there was anything he and his family needed as they were coming through North Bay. I met them, and he invited me to join him on part of his walk through the city,” said Major.
“It’s very inspirational. Just the effort, creating awareness for cancer, cancer research and family support.”
From Highway 11 north, the walk took him to the by-pass, to Highway 17 then off towards Ottawa.
The fundraising goal is a lofty one. Lefebvre wants to raise $100 million.
“We’re really close. We’ve got just about $24,000 raised so far” he joked.
“I got thinking a million dollar goal was fantastic but it didn’t really scare me enough. Then I got thinking $10 million would be alright, but then again it just wasn’t big enough. So I came up with the $100 million mark and it scared the c**p out of me, so I knew I was headed in the right direction. So we’ve still got a month and a half left, and I know things are starting to snowball now, so it’s fantastic.”
Also on the journey is Lefebvre’s mother, Rita.
“I told him I thought he was nuts, and that his father would think he was nuts, but he would also be very proud of what he is doing,” said Rita.
“I think people are becoming more knowledgeable about what we’re all about. As we get closer to our destination, to where my husband is buried, it will become more emotional.”
Lefebvre says he is making a long-term commitment.
“My intention is to have this go forward for generations to come. So every year we’re going to be contributing money back to the fight against cancer. If it takes a couple years to raise the $100 million, I’m okay with that too.”
People wanting to make an on-line donation can check out www.theLfoundation.ca and follow the different options.