Toronto man undertakes 46-day cycling, running challenge to honour George Floyd's 46 years of life

While George Floyd's death has sparked protests and demonstrations worldwide, one Toronto man has taken to city streets in a slightly different way for his part in a growing anti-Black racism movement. 

Support growing for #46forgeorge, which urges people to 'get uncomfortable'

Matthew Cuesta has started a growing #46forgeorge initiative, in which he is cycling for 46 kilometres, or running 4.6 kilometres, every day for 46 days in honour of George Floyd, who died May 25 at the age of 46 after a police officer knelt on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. (Submitted by Matthew Cuesta)

While George Floyd's death has sparked protests and demonstrations worldwide, one Toronto man has taken to city streets in a slightly different way to do his part in a growing anti-Black racism movement.

Matthew Cuesta is cycling 46 kilometres — or running 4.6 kilometres — every day for 46 days in honour of Floyd, who was 46 years old when he was killed by a police officer in Minneapolis.

"I correlate cycling with an uncomfortable threshold," he told CBC Toronto.

"In order to break a habit you have to reach a pain threshold, and you have to go past it to change."

Word of his "get uncomfortable" motto is spreading. What started as one man's challenge has attracted responses from Canadians nationwide, with some pledging to join in themselves. 

Dozens took part in a 46-kilometre ride with Matthew Cuesta on Sunday. (Submitted by Matthew Cuesta)

Cuesta hopes to start a conversation about racism, urging people to look inward and reflect on injustices. 

"That was a human being dying in front of us," he said of Floyd's death. 

"It affects us all." 

'I've been harassed' 

Growing up Black, Cuesta said racism has affected him on a personal level. 

"I've been pulled over by police," he said. "I've been harassed. I've been searched."

Whether it be the police, or simply someone making a comment or a joke, he's urging everyone to "think before you act." 

"That's what I want to start having people thinking about," Cuesta said. 

CBC Toronto captured cyclists during their Sunday ride. (Robert Krbavac/CBC)

Dozens took part Sunday

Cuesta is now more than two weeks through the challenge. Every day it's the same routine: wake up at 4:30 or 5 a.m., throw on his bike gear and start cycling. 

But on Sunday, instead of heading off alone, he was joined by dozens of Torontonians, including city councillor Brad Bradford. 

Matthew Cuesta and Brad Bradford chatting before their ride on Sunday. Bradford says 'the legacy of racism' exists in Toronto and needs to be addressed. (Submitted by Matthew Cuesta)

"Right now there is a deep need for reflection," Bradford said. "We're seeing people respond in different ways: riding, protests, deep reflection." 

Bradford said he joined the other cyclists as a way of pledging his support to Cuesta's #46forgeorge initiative.   

"Racism exists in the city of Toronto and it's systemic. The legacy of racism is something we need to deal with, from everything top-to-bottom," he said.

The group met at Fleet Street and Lakeshore West at 7 a.m. The street was blocked off to all but local traffic, runners, walkers and cyclists for ActiveTO, one of several closures that took place over the weekend

"The turnout speaks for itself," Cuesta said. 

All riders were encouraged to wear masks and practice practice physical distancing during the event. 

Canadians drawn to the initiative

Steven Brown, a police officer in North Bay, is one of many Canadians who have been drawn to Cuesta's mission.

A cyclist himself, he says he was encouraged by Cuesta's attempt to raise awareness. 

"I felt it wasn't an anti-police message. He threw out the message for officers to come ride with him," Brown said. 

"His focus was very much on bridging the gap."

According to Brown, who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, cycling for a cause like Cuesta's is both empowering and allows him to deal with his "internal issues." 

Brown says he's now learning to become comfortable having "uncomfortable conversation" and is trying to listen more with "compassion."

"You need someone on the other side who's willing to listen and not be defensive," he told CBC Toronto. 

People from across Canada have reached out to Matthew Cuesta in support of his mission. (Robert Krbavac/CBC)

Like Brown, Kim Lynch says she saw Cuesta's challenge and felt compelled to reach out. 

"It has brought about some conversation on my part and some self-reflection," Lynch said, who's from Ottawa. 

"I have had it pretty easy."

What impacted her about Cuesta's approach, she said, was that he seems like "an everyday person" who wants to do more. 

"That encouragement [got] me to, I don't know, 'fess up," Lynch said, adding that she believes she has led a privileged life because she is white. 

"It's really just got me thinking about my responsibly as a Canadian citizen to stand up.... It's time to get uncomfortable." 

Matthew Cuesta said his cycling challenge came on a whim, and he didn't expect it to garner as much attention as it has. (Robert Krbavac/CBC)

Support from cyclists worldwide 

Cuesta says he's been receiving messages of support from people in the United Kingdom, Africa, and most recently Albania, to say they would be riding "in solidarity" with him. 

"The reaction from around the world has been amazing," he said. 

"That goes to show it's more than just a race issue. It's a human issue." 

With files from Kelda Yuen