This Man Has A Purpose

Don Patterson's legs are feeling pretty good these days. 

That might not sound like a big deal, except recently, Don went on a long bike ride. A really, really long bike ride. 7,232 kilometres across the country, from Vancouver to St. John's.

He did it in 28 days, averaging more than 250 kilometres a day.

This wasn't a bucket list kind of thing. Don did it to raise money for the YMCA's Strong Kids Campaign.

In fact, he funded the ride himself so every dollar that's donated goes to the Y. The goal is simple: to keep our kids physically active, and give them a chance to be part of Y programs.

"My three children spent a lot of time at the Y," Don says. "There are so many great programs, whether it's gymnastics, swimming, summer camps. I really feel strongly that every child should have the same opportunity as my kids."

A few years ago, Don started thinking about how he could put that passion into action. He decided to ride half way across Canada, from Vancouver to Thunder Bay, in support of the Y. He brought along his wife and a support vehicle. Three thousand five hundred kilometres later, he was done.

St-Johns-Y-welcome.jpgDon be welcomed by YMCA members in St. John's, Nfld.

"After I did it, people started calling me half-way Don," he says. So this year, Don decided to go all the way. He trained for a year riding in the summer, the winter, and on his exercise bike for 6 hours at a time.

But with this ride, Don did it alone. No wife. No support vehicle. Just Don and his bike on the road day after day.

"That was one of the biggest challenges," he says. "I'd be on the road by 3:30 or 4am. But it was really peaceful, and I'd stop every once in a while and take a photo." Or change a tire. Or fix his bike. Or put on his rain jacket.

Don carried everything he needed in a small bag attached to his seat - a few spare tubes, a pump, a chain link, a toothbrush, a razor, an extra jersey and shorts, gloves, leg warmers and his iPhone.

Along the way, he'd find a place to eat. A typical day went like this:

3 am: water, gatorade, a power bar

6 am: eggs, pancakes, sausage, bacon or ham at a restaurant 

Mid-morning: Two bowls of oatmeal with berries at Tim Hortons

Lunch: a sandwich

Mid-afternoon: a light snack (trail mix, peanuts, raisins) 

7 pm: find a hotel, shower, stretch, eat a big dinner (large salad, pasta with meat sauce, milk, apple pie with ice cream).

And yes, if you're riding 7000 kilometres, you can have apple pie. In fact, go to town!

But the truth is, when it comes to nutrition, Don has a simple way of thinking. "I'm about eating to live and getting an appreciation for good, healthy food," he says. "So, fresh strawberries with milk tastes pretty good as opposed to potato chips."

At 58, Don goes to the YMCA every morning to do light weights, the treadmill, or hop in the pool. "(The key is) find something you enjoy. If you're just starting, go at a comfortable pace, don't push too hard, and enjoy the scenery."

Cycling kids in Sault Ste Marie (1).jpg

Don in Sault Ste Marie, ON 

That philosophy has served Don well. And he's doing everything he can to get kids thinking the same way. Don is Chair of the YMCA Advisory Council in Mississauga, Ontario. And he believes the Y has real value in today's society.

"You see a lot of programs being cut or community pools being closed, plus all the fast food and electronic entertainment," he says. "But when kids swim, or bike, or run, we see progress week after week. At the Y, we subsidize 30-35% of our kids. No one knows who they are. Everyone is welcome."

Not only that, but studies suggest kids who exercise have lower rates of obesity and diabetes, they do better in school and stay out of trouble. 

"There's a self-confidence about them," Don says. "Plus, they develop friendships and a lifelong appreciation of physical activity and nutrition."

And for Don, it's the kids who have kept him motivated. 

"Mentally, a few times, it was tough to keep going. When it got into the 30s, it was pretty hot riding," he says. "But the thrill for me was visiting kids at all the Ys. I'd always have a big smile on my face."

So far, Don has raised $20,000 and he plans to fly to YMCA's around the country, to encourage people and businesses to get involved. "We can make the pitch to companies - you work with kids, get them strong and active, and you end up with a healthy, skilled workforce," he says.

That means better productivity, fewer sick days, and less stress. "It's not rocket science. If we take some simple steps, we can make a real difference."

If you'd like to make a donation online, go to Don's blog at and click on the page at the top 'Donating to your local Y'. Or you can send a cheque to your local Y and mark 'Don's Ride' in the memo section.

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