The Cornwall Children's Treatment Centre has announced elite marathon runner Jean-Paul Bedard will be this year's guest speaker at the Bike-a-thon Plus Kickoff Breakfast on May 2 at Cornwall Civic Complex.
Bedard has run more marathons in a single day than even truly avid runners would over multiple years. This past October, he ran the Toronto Waterfront Marathon a total of six-times-in-a-row, which is a total of 253 kilometres, as a way to raise awareness of sexual violence against children.
"I think this is something we need to talk a lot about more, because this is something that affects one in three girls and one in five boys in Canada," said Bedard. "We need to talk about it, de-mystify it, and take away a bit of that stigma. By doing those things,
"I don't know that we can solve the problem, but we can sure realize that there is a problem."
Like the treatment centre's clients, Bedard a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. He was abused by a hockey coach and then, only a few years later, sexually assaulted by two men in a ravine. Bedard said he struggled for a long time with what happened and began abusing alcohol. He used running as a way to finally get sober, but it was still more than a decade after that before he even told his wife of 25 years about what had happened to him as a child.
"I had just got to the point in my life where I had spent so much of it struggling through mental health issues and really bad addiction problems because of these things I had not addressed or sought treatment for," he said. "I had been sober for 16 years, but everything felt like a house of cards ... the wheels could come off at any moment, so I figured I had better start talking about this."
Bedard did finally tell his wife, and the two of them went the U.S. for him to participate in the 2014 Boston Marathon. While they were there, the bombings happened. Bedard said he was already finished his second run when the bombs went off, but he and his wife went out into the street after the explosions. The event shook him deeply.
"The experience of being in the midst of that terrorist attack compounded with just having come out about the sexual abuse sent me into a tailspin," he said.
Bedard went in for treatment after Boston, and decided to run a marathon to raise money for the program he had just attended. Despite his fears, he went back to Boston to run the marathon again in 2015, not once, but twice.
So when he went to the city, he started early at the finish line, ran all the way to the starting line in time for the beginning of the marathon and then ran it again along with the thousands of others participants.
It was a massive success; Bedard had raised $25,000 for his cause and gathered lots of media attention.
In the years since, he has continued to step up his game. He ran the 2015 Toronto Waterfront Marathon three times as part of the Province of Ontario's "It's Never Okay" campaign. He ran it four times in 2016, and then six times in 2017. Bedard thinks he has likely maxed himself out at six consecutive marathons.
When not running marathons, he has spoken at events about childhood sexual abuse and has recently written a book. At the breakfast on May 2, he said he will speak about the importance of treating victims early so they don't have to go through the years of mental anguish he did.
"Here's the problem: untreated or undiagnosed childhood trauma continues to just cascade and reverberate throughout an entire lifetime," he said. "I've been sober for 21 years, and I know just from sitting in lots of 12-step programs over the years that a large majority of the individuals at those meetings are adults still carrying around the impact of childhood trauma."
Tickets for the breakfast are available by contacting the Children's Treatment Centre at 613-933-4400.