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Unsung hero: New Zealander runs 8,000 km across Canada unsupported, raising over $100,000 for childhood cancer

Inspired by Terry Fox, Jon Nabbs has done what only few have accomplished in his 8,000 km journey across the country

Three-hundred-and-five days and nearly 8,000 kms later, New Zealander Jon Nabbs has accomplished what less than a handful of people been able to achieve — run across Canada from coast-to-coast unsupported.

Turning his eyes away from the Atlantic Ocean at the start of May 2023, Nabbs trekked through a formidable summer and braved brutal winter temperatures before laying eyes on the Pacific in the first week of March 2024.

"I just had this deep desire to do a huge journey and a fundraiser to do something constructive in an area that had hit my life very hard," Nabbs said in an interview with Yahoo News Canada.

Nabbs would keep his supporters updated on his whereabouts via a live tracker on his website as well as sharing video diaries on his social platforms.

A journey close to Nabb's heart

Cancer impacted the Nabb's home heavily as the world was going into lockdown in response to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

Nabbs says his father was diagnosed with skin cancer four years ago, eventually losing him to the disease that same year. Just a few months after he passed away, his mother was diagnosed with bowel cancer, and she would eventually pass away in 2021.

"It was incredibly hard to move on from the grief of losing both of my parents — from going from a full healthy family to being just me and my brothers in the space of 16 months... it felt like a nightmare," Nabbs said.

Jon Nabbs mother and father (Courtesy Jon Nabbs)
Jon Nabbs mother and father (Courtesy Jon Nabbs)

Losing his parents in a short time span while lockdowns took away the ability to go about life, Nabbs says he needed something to process his grief.

"I think this journey sprang out of the state I was in, as a massive overcompensation for the state of grief I was in and the feeling of being unable to move forward," Nabbs said.

Canadian icon Terry Fox also served as a major source of inspiration for Nabbs.

When scouting possible locations for this epic journey, Nabbs said all things considered, "It just had to be Canada."

"I knew if I choose Canada, factoring in Terry Fox's run and legacy, there would be an empathy and an understanding for what it is I was hoping to undertake."

On the road

Nabbs says there was no amount of training that could have prepared him for the cross-country trek he was set to undertake.

"How does one even train for a 7,500 km run?"

Taking his first steps in St. John's, N.L. last May, Nabbs said he was flooded with a mix of emotions and a sense of disbelief that he was about to set out on this epic journey.

I could not believe I was at this fantastic place at the far-flung reaches of the north Atlantic.Jon Nabbs

Nabbs said a typical day on the road would look like waking up in his tent in the middle of some forest or kind-hearted citizen's front lawn, plot his route on Google Maps and check the weather.

After loading all his belongings into his stroller, he would down a granola bar, do some stretching and hit the road with the aim of getting 15 km down. After a break to down some nutrients and read a few pages of his go-to novel, it was back on the road for another 15 to 20 km. One more break for a nutritious dinner and then one last 15 km push before it was time to set up camp for the day and create content updating his followers on his day.

Nabbs says one of the things that surprised him the most as he made his way across the country was how well his body held up.

"I thought my body would give up at some point or I would get injuries that would slow me down, but none of that happened," Nabbs said.

As the days grew shorter, darker and colder, Nabbs says one force he fought while on the road was loneliness, pointing to the fact that he was spending Christmas and New Year's camped out in the Canadian wilderness.

"More than the weather, the traffic, injuries and wildlife, the biggest challenge that surprised me was loneliness," Nabbs said.

"There were a couple days where I was hugely lonely — it was Christmas time and I didn't know anyone," Nabbs said.

Despite this, Nabbs said there was no place he would rather be than on the road.

Nabbs says the intense support he's received along the way, down to the supporters who would come out to cheer him on the road, is a factor that fuelled him to keep going.

Hitting Mile Zero

Nabbs said approaching his final mile on the West Coast was an emotional experience.

"Seeing the big cargo ships at anchor in Vancouver, it hammered home 'That's the ocean! Nabbs said.'"

When asked what if felt like to have completed this momentous undertaking, Nabbs joked "It hasn't sunk in yet that I don't have to run tomorrow."

Nabbs not only hit his goal of raising $60,000 to aid children in their fight against cancer, but nearly doubled it, collecting over $100,000 at time of publishing.

"It is overwhelming how much Canadians have gotten behind my run and fundraiser... The people have been just absolutely wonderful," Nabbs said.

If you would like to join Jon Nabbs and battle childhood cancer, you can make a donation here.