Man close to end of 6,500-km ‘dream’ walk Quebecer battles painful nerve disease in trek

By Tom McCoag
The Mail-Star, Fort Lawrence, November 1999.

Entrée en Nouvelle-Ecosse.

Entrée en Nouvelle-Ecosse.

Jacques Gauthier’s 6,500-kilometre cross-Canada walk is almost over.

« I can hardly wait to put my feet into the Atlantic when I reach Halifax in four days, » the 60-year-old Quebec resident said as he crossed into Nova Scotia on Wednesday.

« When I do that, my dream will have come true. »

It’s a dream he didn’t contemplate ten years ago. He was suffering from a neurological disease known as vasculitis, an incurable ailment that inflames the blood vessels that feed nerves.

« I first began noticing the symptoms when I lost the use of my left hand and arm, » he said while taking a break inside the mobile home that his wife Dorothée Lavoie has been driving in support of his walk since the trek began in Vancouver last March.

« The doctors told me there was nothing they could do for me. »

Over the years, the disease worsened. Soon every step « was like walking on needles. »

Doctors used cortisone to reduce, but not eliminate, the effects of the disease. Ten years ago, they told Mr. Gauthier one of the side effects of taking cortisone was osteoporosis, a condition that reduces bone density. In his case, he’d lost 20 per cent of his bone density and was told he’d have to take a second medication « to make up for the cortisone’s side-effects. »

Fearing a slide into increased drug use, Mr. Gauthier stopped taking the pills.

« I was headed for a wheelchair anyway, so I decided I would rather be wheelchair-bound as a result of the disease and not the drugs I was taking. »

Initially it looked like his decision was a mistake. He ended up with arthritis so severe that « all my joints were on fire. I was forced to stay in bed for 20 hours a day because lying still was the only way it didn’t hurt. »

In an attempt to get relief, he contacted a « New Brunswick healer » for help. He refuses to name the man because past revelations have caused the man problems with the New Brunswick medical society.

« He told me I had to stretch. I told him that I couldn’t, but he convinced me to try. »

The stretching exercises helped. Convinced it was the way to go, Mr. Gauthier bought a book by stretching expert Bob Anderson and began doing two to four hours of stretching a day.

« After seven months he had no pain at all. My friends couldn’t believe the way I looked. »

Friends and family began asking him for help. Strangers soon were too, so he made a video of his stretching routine and began lecturing. Then he dreamed he should walk across Canada with his message.

Terrified that he couldn’t do it, Mr. Gauthier walked across Quebec last year as a test. The experience convinced him he could fulfill his dream. He made a new « more professional video » in both English and French and garnered a few sponsors, like the American coffee maker Newco, to help support the walk.

Their support wasn’t enough, so he and his wife sold their home possessions before leaving from Vancouver on Feb. 26, the day after he turned 60. Just under a month later, on March 27 he dunked his toes into the Pacific and started east.

Four hundred kilometres into the walk, in Penticton, B.C., he slipped on ice. « I had to take three weeks off, and then when I resumed, I walked with a limp. At that point, I thought I’d be happy if I made it to Calgary. »

He did, and was feeling so good he headed across the Prairies, Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick, walking 40 to 50 kilometres a day. His longest walk was 65 kilometres.

« Now that I’ve reached Nova Scotia, I know I’m going to succeed. The one thing that I hope this walk does is encourage anyone, young or old, to go after their dreams. »

He’s anxious to get to Halifax, where he’s scheduled to visit City Hall next Monday afternoon. But he hasn’t stopped dreaming.

« What I plan to do next is walk around the United States. »