Colin Harris ended his nine month, cross-Canada odyssey Tuesday by dipping his foot in the ocean at Royal Roads University, but it was just the beginning of the next episode in his quest to bring youth closer to the great outdoors.
The 36-year-old had plenty of company in the final metres of his run, which began in Newfoundland in January. Members of the cross-country team from Sangster Elementary School and Sooke school district superintendent Jim Cambridge ran with Harris through the Royal Roads campus, and still more students were at the shore to cheer the group on.
“It feels good,” said Harris, after taking his final stride. “It’s a little bit overwhelming right now.”
Having schoolchildren along at the end was important to him, said Harris, who is working on his master’s degree in environmental education and communication at Royal Roads. He has also been involved in creating a non-profit organization called Take Me Outside, aimed at helping young people increase their connection to the natural world.
“It’s a beautiful day, the sun is shining and it’s good to be on the West Coast,” he said. “It’s been a long nine months but \[I’m] happy to have made it.”
Running across Canada has been a long-held dream, Harris said, beginning when he was in Grade 7 and the Olympic torch relay came through Winnipeg on its way to the 1988 Calgary Winter Games. Terry Fox was another big inspiration.
Also spurring him along has been research showing people of all ages spend an inordinate amount of time in front of computer and television screens.
“Fifty-three hours a week is what teenagers are spending in front of screens, and so we just need to find a little bit more balance.”
Harris took time off school for his coast-to-coast trek, but will be sitting down to work on his master’s thesis soon. He said he didn’t just spend his days running.
“About six months – about 180 days – have been spent running a marathon a day, and then about two months have been spent going into schools – about 75 schools across the country – and then about a month of recovery days.”
There was one tough fiveweek stint in northern Ontario where he was on his own and would have to park his vehicle, run ahead to cover his day’s distance, hitchhike back to the vehicle and drive it ahead – then do it all again the next day.
His arrival tied in with an announcement from Cambridge outlining the details of a “nature kindergarten” in the Sooke district. The nature kindergarten will open next September at Sangster Elementary with $12,500 in start-up funding from the Ministry of Education’s Growing Innovations Program.
Cambridge said Harris’s message about the value of the outdoors fits with the philosophy of the new kindergarten project, which will be run in co-operation with Royal Roads.
“Royal Roads has agreed to let our kindergarten students use their grounds as a learning place. That’s going to be wonderful, because kids are going to be outside almost all the time every day.”
Harris applauded the concept.
“I think our education history has revolved around sitting at a desk enclosed by four walls. I think there’s other learning environments that are out there that can work just as effectively.”
Article written by Jeff Bell. Originally appeared in publication for the Times Colonist.