Stretching to recovery

By Dan MacCormac
The Citizen, Amherst, Saturday, November 20, 1999

Ten years ago, Jacques Gauthier was facing life in a wheelchair.

Last Wednesday, at the age of 60, he walked into Fort Lawrence after spending the previous eight months walking across Canada – 11 hours and 65 kilometres usually – in an effort to promote his learned credos: it is not normal to live with pain and that good health is within anyone reach.

On March 27, Gauthier dipped his foot in the Pacific Ocean in British Columbia, thus beginning the trek that would take him some 6,500 kilometres through the Rockies, the Prairies, Ontario and Quebec and recently into the Maritimes. Gauthier estimates he actually took over seven million steps in his journey, the seeds of which were planted almost 20 years ago.

A strange and serious neurological disease left the 40-year-old Gauthier without the use of his left hand and the possibility of losing the use of his right hand and both feet. To combat this, he was prescribed the anti-inflammatory medication cortisone and took it regularly for 10 years.

The he learned that the cortisone had caused him to develop osteoporosis and lose 20 per cent of his bone density, making almost any kind physical activity dangerous and painful.

« It was dangerous from then on for me to do any kind of physical exercise. I didn’t have any choice but to keep on taking steroid, but I would have to take a second medication to make up for the side effects of cortisone, » explained Gauthier. « It sounded obvious that I would end up in a wheelchair and I chose not to fight it. That day I made the most important decision of my life: no more pills. If I was to en up quadriplegic, it would be from the disease, not the drugs. »

Gauthier spent the next six months suffering through cortisone withdrawal and searching for an alternative way to deal with his condition. He found relief through one of the most fundamental exercises known: stretching.

« I said a prayer. I swore I’d be an inspiration. The following day I heard about a healer. The guy’s a lumberjack, but he treats people with arthritis. When I called him up, I explained what I had, » said Gauthier. « He said if I had a month to spare to come and meet him, we could try some things. I went and he said ‘Jacques, you have to stretch.’ I said ‘I can’t. The doctors forbid me to exercise because I lost 20 per cent of my bone density.’ He said, ‘Yes, but they’re telling you you’re heading for a wheelchair. What have you got to lose?’ That made sense to me. »

Gauthier spent three weeks in New Brunswick with the lumberjack/healer. Three weeks after returning home to Quebec, he said he had lost 50 per cent of the pain he had been living with. He began to read all the books he could find on stretching and soon his wife Dorothée Lavoie was into it as well, and found stretching dramatically reduced her lower-back pain.

« We were stretching together for two to four hours a day at that time. After seven months, I had no more pain in my body at all. No more symptoms of the diseases that were hurting me so much, » said Gauthier.

Soon after, Gauthier and Lavoie began teaching stretching. At first, they showed some basics to friends who were impressed by Gauthier’s radical recovery, then eventually began holding lectures. They also produced a home video on stretching which is presently available at AV Entertainment in the Amherst Centre Mall.

« Anyone can do it, regardless of physical condition or age. People in their ’80’s can stretch and they start enjoying life again because the pain goes away. It builds up their energy and they feel like doing things again. »

Gauthier said he didn’t get into teaching stretching for personal profit, he just wanted to reach as many people as possible. Hence his decision to walk across Canada, which he financed by selling his home. Presently, he and his wife live in a motor home. He walks and she drives. Next year he plans on walking across the United States to spread his message of the benefits of simple stretching.

« I want to share my experience with the world. It doesn’t cost a fortune to be healthy. It’s an investment of time – 15 to 20 minutes a day. Instead of being confined to a wheelchair, I’m walking across Canada and all I do is 15 to 20 minutes of stretching a day. »

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