Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Voice Actor Matt Hill
Eleven-thousand miles. That’s how far Matt Hill and Steph Tait, co-founders of Run for One Planet, a grassroots environmental awareness campaign, ran while spreading a message of sustainable advocacy. That’s long enough to reach from the west coast of B.C. to the east coast of Newfoundland, to dip down to the southernmost border of the United States, trace the U.S./Mexico border and then reach back up to B.C. It’s long enough to run over 420 marathons, to burn over 3 million calories and to inspire countless individuals. One can only assume that as Canadians, Hill and Tait chose 11,000 miles as their distance catchphrase because it rolls off the tongue a bit more easily than their homeland metric value of “seventeen-thousand, seven-hundred and two, point eight kilometres.”
Whether you count in miles or kilometres, heck, whether you’re a runner or not, Hill’s mantra resonates: “I truly see life as a marathon, it’s a journey that has to be taken one step at a time.”
Hailing from North Vancouver, Hill remembers his running journey starting early – really early. “I have this vivid memory of my mom accidentally leaving the door open when I was a kid. I took off – I was out running circles around our cul-de-sac. I was three years old. That was when I first knew the power of a run.”
When Hill was 10, he watched Terry Fox’s Marathon of Hope. Running wasn’t the young Hill’s only interest though. “When I was 13, I snuck off to get an acting agent,” Hill recalls. Thirty-six years later, Hill can credit a successful career as one of the most notable voice-over actors Canada has ever produced to that act of parental defiance. Hill’s voice has lent personality to some of the icons of childhood, including Raphael of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Tenderheart from Care Bears.
In the midst of a successful voice-acting career, Hill never forgot his dream of emulating his hero and using his life to enact change in the lives of others. His answer came to him at 28,000 feet, while on his way to a cartoon convention, writing down on a scrap of paper: “Run for one planet.”
Talking about that moment now, Hill says, “Here I was on this plane, knowing that the planet is struggling under our weight. I wanted to do something that wasn’t about pointing fingers, but about encouraging small steps.”
For Hill, an eight-time Ironman and accomplished marathoner, taking on such a physical challenge was daunting, but not incomprehensible. His partner, Steph Tait, however, agreed to the challenge with the background of a casual 10k runner. “So we had a lot of training to do,” Hill laughs.
The pair trained for two years before getting the campaign underway. Their prep included long runs, focusing on keeping their heart rates down and always leaving something in the proverbial tank. They kicked off their journey at the 2008 Vancouver Marathon. While everyone else stopped at the finish line, Hill and Tait kept going, running another marathon the next day, and the next – for 369 days.
Hill and Tait visited schools and community centres along their route, giving presentations on the 10 sustainability tips that formed the central focus of their campaign. These tips were designed to mobilize kids and resonate with parents: eat local and organic; turn off your car; eliminate plastic bags; use green cleaners; turn off the lights; turn off the taps; reduce, reuse, recycle; compost; bring your own bottle and teach your kids to respect the planet.
Hill was initially hesitant to mobilize the voices of the characters he’d played to help spread the message. After he’d let slip Raphael’s signature “Yo, yo, yo” a few times though, he knew that the enthusiasm of children was the key to spreading the word.
“There were so many special moments,” Hill says, “but I remember getting an email from a dad in Houston. It started with something along the lines of, ‘I was initially annoyed at the person who’d gotten my son all riled up about leaving our equipment on the farm running while we were doing other things. But I sat down and I listened to him and realized that it’s one thing I can do.’”
Hill credits Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth as the inspiration behind the 10 tips. “The goal was to make our message accessible. We wanted the kids to know that their actions count,” says Hill.
Last May, Run for One Planet was awarded the Governor General ’s Meritorious Service Medal in recognition of their contribution to community wellness. While the run itself may be over, Hill’s message certainly is not. He plans to tackle his first set of ultramarathon races this summer.
“I’m going to keep running and I’m going to keep telling kids that they can make a difference until the good lord takes me home,” Hill quips.— CF
“I have this vivid memory of my mom accidentally leaving the door open when I was a kid. I took off – I was out running circles around our cul-de-sac.” “I wanted to do something that wasn’t about pointing fingers, but about encouraging small steps.”
LEFT Matt Hill and his partner Steph Tait surrounded by the shoes that carried them on their journey