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.

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