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B.C. man on lonely walk to support neglected kids


Bart Zych is on an unexpected journey of self-discovery as he walks 1,100 kilometres in support of an organization that helps neglected and disadvantaged children in Canada.
The 40-year-old college instructor walks an average of 30 kilometres a day, on occasion pushing it to 45 kilometres, as he travels alone from Hope, B.C. to Calgary.
“It’s been the most challenging thing I’ve ever done — both emotionally and physically — and yet the most rewarding,” said Zych, who last week passed through Fort Macleod.
The well-publicized suicide of bullying victim Amanda Todd and the shootings at Sandy Hook school where 20 children died, as well as other violence involving young people, prompted Zych to act.
Zych thought about his own childhood and what led to him reaching a comfortable place in his life with a good job, a place to live, and friends and family.
“It had a lot to do with what I was provided as choices,” Zych said. “My parents were very good about that.”
Zych’s parents provided him opportunities to learn about the world, which provided him with choices in life. The ability to make those choices enhanced his self-esteem.
Zych came up with the idea of a long walk, alone and self-supported, in support of a group that helps Canadian children.
Zych chose as the organization he would support the Children’s Aid Foundation, which gives 100 per cent of the money it receives to organizations that support neglected and disadvantaged children in Canada.
The walk would also provide a personal challenge for Zych, who recently had one knee surgically reconstructed and who had blown out the ACL in the other a few years ago.
Zych trained in the gym to strengthen his legs and did long distance walking. He quit the gym about a month and a half before the walk and began eating more than usual to gain weight, knowing the walk would take a physical toll.
Zych’s plan initially received a cool response.
“My friends thought I was crazy,” Zych said. “My parents were a little concerned.”
People gradually warmed to the idea of Zych’s journey and threw their support behind him. He was able to secure some corporate support for the walk.
That support was vital.
“There have been lots of emotional ups and downs, physical as well,” Zych said of the five weeks he had been on the road when he reached Fort Macleod. “Spending that time walking alone leaves a lot for a person to think about and reflect on.”
Zych, who teaches business courses, started his six-week walk on June 17 at Hope, B.C., travelling by himself and pushing his gear in a buggy he fashioned from two strollers.
Zych has avoided restaurants and sleeps in a tent in an attempt to be completely self-sufficient. In B.C. he slept in the wilderness, but in Alberta has sought the generosity of people such as Frances and Doug Paskal of Fort Macleod, who offered him a free site at the Daisy May Campground.
Mountain passes and severe heat proved a serious challenge in B.C., as did the strong headwinds Zych has faced since he entered Alberta.
At one point on the journey when he was out in the middle of nowhere after nine days of rain, sitting in a leaking tent, Zych considered getting on a bus back home. He would take a break and later get a ride back to where he stopped, and resume the walk.
After a bit more reflection, Zych knew he had to carry on.
“The kids I’m trying to raise money for they don’t have the option to take a break from their life for a week or two. I thought about that some more and I thought there’s no way I can do this. If they can’t take a break, I can’t. It’s about overcoming adversity.”
Zych made a conscious choice to walk alone without a support team.
“One of the reasons I think — and I hate to say this — it’s ego, it’s being different,” Zych said “I wanted to be different and also prove it to myself that I can.”
“The other reason is symbolic for me. There are so many kids who don’t have support. I’m just a normal guy. I’m no different from any other person. If I can do it, other people can do it.”
The lonely hours on the road have provided Zych with plenty of time for self-reflection.
“While I’ve been walking I’ve been thinking how I can be more involved with these kids and groups when I get back home.”
Zych plans to talk to young people about his walk, recovering from his injuries, and overcoming challenges in life in the hopes of providing inspiration.
Zych has also undergone something of a transformation as he focuses so hard on pure survival.
“I’ve had a lot of self-discovery,” Zych said. “Specifically how much we take for granted what we have. The simple things, running water, showers, a bed, a roof over our heads, and not paying attention to people who don’t have that. I realize now how they feel.”
Zych is already more appreciative of his life, and is determined to do more to help others. He planned to spend two days helping with the flood recovery in High River on his way to Calgary.
“Now when I think about people on the streets . . . I don’t think I’ll be ignoring these people in the future. In fact I know I won’t be.”
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