Royal Roads University
7,600 kilometers. Nine months. Three pairs of runners. One passion.
That’s what has been driving Royal Roads University MA in Environmental Education and Communication student Colin Harris across Canada on a run that spans from St. John’s, N.L. to Victoria, B.C. Harris combined a life-long dream to run across the country with his Take Me Outside campaign to help youth understand the value of being outdoors.
“You ask anyone over the age of 25 to 30 what their childhood was like and they will tell you most of their time was spent playing outside,” Harris says. “That’s what’s changed.”
The idea started with education students at Queen’s University who made “take me outside” T-shirts for their cohort. Harris had a friend in the program and ended up with a shirt himself. Fast forward more than a year and he saw the potential to take the idea further. With permission from the original students, Harris redesigned the shirts and started selling them online in 2008. The proceeds went to Kid Active, an organization devoted to fostering healthy children, communities and outdoor environments.
As Harris’ idea grew, he transitioned the funding away from KidActive and put it towards his own campaign to raise awareness about the importance of getting outside. The Take Me Outside cross-Canada run was launched Jan. 17 in St. Johns, N.L. and will end in Victoria, B.C. Oct. 25.
With nine months in the elements almost tied up, Harris reflects on the experience’s impact on him as well. Having met educators across the country he is more optimistic about youth’s connection to nature than he was when he started.
“I have seen a real commitment from schools to get kids more active,” he says. “I have seen more outdoor classrooms in schools than I thought I would see.”
Along the way, Harris has spoken at more than 75 schools, connecting with more than 20,000 youth about the value in finding balance between their time indoors and outdoors. He keeps the presentations simple, focusing on a conversation between people. It starts by asking them to compare how much time they spend in front of a screen with how much time they spend in nature.
In between school visits Harris runs. A lot.
An average day for the 36-year-old covers the ground of a marathon race. He will run about 20 km before lunch, and 25 more after a break. Sometimes he has a driver for the RV he has called home for nine months, but sometimes he is solo. On those days he will run more than 40 km and then hitchhike back to his van so he can drive it forward and start again the next day.
“There are always adventures,” he says. “The bad days were running a marathon for five hours and then having to wait another three hours (for a ride back to the van).”
Sticking mainly to the Trans-Canada Highway, Harris has pounded the pavement alongside Lake Superior, through prairie fields and across the Rocky Mountains.
“The days are long and hard, but I am living a lifetime dream,” he says. “It’s a diverse country. A huge country, but a beautiful one.”
One of the most amazing things about it is that no matter where you are in the country you don’t have to go far to experience nature. “Canada has some of the most amazing backyards in the world,” he says.
The run will end at Royal Roads University Oct. 25, but the work of Take Me Outside is far from over. Harris is moving to Victoria, and plans to take some time to travel Vancouver Island and unwind. After that he will be jumping right back into his studies as he has a thesis to finish for the MEEC program. He took a leave of absence from the program to complete the run.
For Take Me Outside, the campaign has room to grow. Harris is interested in talking to Mountain Equipment Co-op to see if they would be interested in expanding the Take Me Outside T-Shirts they currently sell to a clothing line. Proceeds from that idea could raise money for outdoor classrooms across Canada. He also has an idea for a book to connect people to the power of natural experiences. The book would not be about his run per se, but more about different people’s stories about how being outside influenced or changed them.
“My thesis is focused on storytelling,” he says. “I would really like to pursue getting a book published that told other people’s stories of the time they have spent outside and how it affected them and their world view.”
The ideas are still shaping up, but Harris is confident about one activity’s status as of Oct. 26.
“I will not be running, I can tell you that!”
Written by Amy Dove. Originally appeared through the Royal Roads University Alumni website.