Going the distance on behalf of other survivors
Jean-Paul Bedard will run triple marathon to start dialogue on sexual violence
Jean-Paul Bedard has run more than 100 marathons in his 49 years. On Oct. 18 he will run the Scotiabank Toronto Marathon three times to draw attention to himself, and in turn, the need for open discussion about the prevalence of sexual violence in our communities.
“I am the survivor of childhood sexual abuse and violent rape,” explained Bedard. “I want to demonstrate the incredible resiliency of survivors.”
He’ll do this by running a triple marathon — 42.2 kilometres times three, a total of 126.6 kilometres. It will represent a cathartic transition for the Toronto resident.
“The first one will be a way of reconciling my past. The second one will be a way of grounding myself in the present. Finally, the third one will be sort of a demonstration of me moving towards an even stronger future.”
Bedard, who has taught English for 23 years, has been running at a high intensity level for at least seven years.
In the past two years, he has been averaging between 160 and 180 kilometres a week. To train for the triple marathon he increased his mileage to 200 km/week for the last five months.
“My main priority is getting my body used to running on really tired legs,” Bedard said.
“That means that every weekend for the past six months I have been running at least a full marathon every Sunday, either in training or at a race, and on many occasions those Sunday runs have ranged between 50 to 60 kilometres.”
At midnight before the official race, while the other participants are sleeping, Bedard’s marathon will begin. He will run the course twice, timing it so he arrives at the finish line just before the official marathon starts so he will run his third course with everyone else.
“I am typically a three-hour marathoner, but because of this incredible distance that I will be travelling, I have to slow down and pace myself. I will probably aim for a four-hour to four-hour-and-10-minute marathon,” he said.
Two-and-a-half years ago, Bedard disclosed to his wife, Mary-Anne, that he had been sexually abused as a child.
“I had never before talked about this with anyone, ever. I felt this secret that I have been holding for so long was going to kill me. I was looking at my wife who has been 100 per cent by my side for 26 years at the time, with complete unconditional love and I was allowing this secret to potentially destroy all of it — it had to come out.
“It took over 30 years for me to gain the strength to tell someone. Throughout those years, my life spiralled downward into addiction, depression and thoughts of suicide,” said Bedard, a recovering alcoholic who has been sober for 18 years.
Statistics Canada’s 2005 Children and Youth as Victims of Crime report found that six out of 10 victims who reported being sexually assaulted were under 17.
Bedard’s run is not without health risks.
“The most common risks with marathon running is over-usage injuries that are muscular skeletal. This fellow is one of those rare specimens who can run repeated marathons back to back — he has resilience to the over-usage of injuries that plague a lot of runners,” said Jack Goodman, a professor in the faculty of kinesiology and physical education at the University of Toronto.
“There is very little evidence to suggest that just because you run a marathon or successive marathons that you are putting your heart at risk.
“His greatest risk is dehydration and the overuse — pounding of the muscular skeletal system. If he keeps himself hydrated and his nutrition is good he should be OK.”
Bedard wants to give a face to what a sexual abuse survivor looks like. He thinks it’s the fastest way to help remove the stigma, which is debilitating. For years he kept silent because he felt ashamed.
He has been in and out of therapy and treatment for more than 22 years but it was the openness of a hockey player that made the difference for Bedard.
“Seeing Theo Fleury publicly talk about his experiences was definitely a turning point for me,” Bedard said. “He was a big inspiration for me. He showed me it was possible for a ‘man’ to deal with this issue.”
Bedard recently started a men’s trauma group at Women’s College Hospital.
“Running has been a massive part of this entire experience. It helped ‘unearth’ it in the beginning and it’s what is helping me now to process the experience,” Bedard said. He began running a year into his sobriety and he is writing a book about his experience, set to be published in the spring.
This is the first time someone has committed to running the waterfront marathon course three times in a day.
“We are thrilled that Toronto resident Jean-Paul has chosen the hometown marathon for his remarkable feat — both the running and generation of awareness for his important cause.” said Alan Brookes, race director for the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon.
“The one thing that I never thought I would be able to do in life was to tell someone else that I had been raped,” Bedard said.
“Having done that publicly and knowing the world didn’t fall around me — I think the rest is pretty much something I can manage.” To encourage dialogue about sexual abuse, Bedard asks people to use the hashtag #ItsNeverOkay on social media.
Jean-Paul Bedard will run the Scotiabank Toronto Marathon three times on Oct. 18. Bedard says he wants to give a face to what a sexual abuse survivor looks like.