Pedaling strong for a third year, Andrew Sedmihradsky (the global mobility coordinator at UTM’s International Education Centre) and his son Max cycled through Canada’s 150th Anniversary celebrations this summer through Hamilton to Ottawa for Max’s Big Ride. Max’s Big Ride is an initiative to raise awareness about Duchenne muscular dystrophy and fundraise towards finding a cure. The inaugural Ice Cream Ride on June 4th kicked off the 9-day journey.
“When we first started doing this in 2015 – Max was 4 at the time and so trying to explain that we were going to ride 600 km was difficult,” says Sedmihradsky, “and so I just said that we are going to ride from ice-cream shop to ice-cream shop.”
Sedmihradsky then wondered if a similar strategy would work well with encouraging adults to come out. “We had a really good response, we had about 100 riders come out for the ice-cream ride, raised approximately $5000 in pledges,” he says. After completing the ice-cream huddle at Spencer Smith Park in Burlington, the Sedmihradsky family began the 600km trek to Ottawa.
Although forecasts for June 4th initially predicted a 90% chance of thunderstorms, Sedmihradsky describes how soon after, the weather “cleared up, the sun was shining, it was beautiful, you couldn’t ask for better weather,” after which the duo rode into Toronto.
“Probably one of the biggest things that happened along the way was that we managed to get on Breakfast television,” says Sedmihradsky. He mentions how the UTM communications liaison reached out to media in Toronto and managed to get some traction.
“I didn’t know how big it was, I’ve been living in Australia, I moved to Canada 3 years ago and prior to that, 8 years I was in Australia, so I only had some idea what it was until I got there,” says Sedmihradsky, referring to his experience with appearing on Breakfast Television.
Waking up at 5 am, Max and Andrew reached the studios by 6 am, where Sedmihradsky describes how, “Max has been on TV a few times but it has always been recorded, but this time it was live TV.”
Sedmihradsky laughs as he recalls his time at the network. “With the monitors in front of you, you can see yourself on TV and as soon as [Max] saw himself on TV everything went out the window—he started blowing on the table and pulling all these weird faces.” Although Sedmihradsky mentions becoming momentarily distracted from the topics he wanted to address, he describes the reception as being very positive. “The audience described the scenario as relatable and the BTV host [Kevin Frankish] was great and said, ‘oh he’s just behaving like a typical 6-year-old.’” Sedmihradsky describes how “people as far as Kingston were honking their horns and saying oh I saw you on BTV and that was incredible, a real boost to the ride.”
While supporters of Max’s Big Ride from Cobourg already had a welcome planned, Sedmihradsky describes how the duo’s appearance on Breakfast Television made the event bigger. “The business improvement association of Cobourg got involved, there was a huge welcoming thing for us outside town hall, a fire truck was there, the police gave us an escort into town, there was a group of 10 cyclists that rode in with us, we got presented with a bunch of cheques, Max got some presents, it was wonderful,” he says.
Describing his experience cycling from town to town, Sedmihradsky says “it’s just really humbling the support that you get, it only started off as a website that I made in my basement a few years ago.”
Upon arriving at Parliament Hill, they were greeted by members of the professional staff from the UTM Office of Student Transition, the International Education Centre, and the Centre for Student Engagement. “They just happened to be in town for a conference, and so they had a big banner made up saying we’re proud of you and as we pulled up into parliament hill members of parliament were there to greet us,” says Sedmihradsky.
Max’s Big Ride saw the addition of a new passenger this year: Sedmihradsky’s 15-month old daughter, Isla. “She loved it, she would cry if we went off on the bike without her and Max was responsible for feeding her,” Sedmihradsky jokes as he says further, “that adds a little bit of extra weight but not too much, maybe I have to put them both on diets.”
The group also paid a visit to the Centre for Neuromuscular Disease at the University of Ottawa, being invited their last year through Jesse’s Journey. After they were informed about the ride, Sedmihradsky describes how “they just took it upon themselves, they had this huge reception planned, Max got his own lab coat with the University of Ottawa Medical School insignia.” Sedmihradsky also mentions the interest they received from physicians and DMD researchers, describing it as an opportunity for students to appreciate the impact of their research.
Elaborating on the ride and Jesse’s Journey’s partnership with UTM to establish a graduate fellowship in Patrick Gunning’s lab (professor in the chemical and physical sciences department), he says, “through our three different events, we raised about $35,000 and that will go towards – and has surpassed what was required to hire a PhD student in his lab,” referring to the graduate fellowship.
Sedmihradsky also eludes to a partnership between the Gunning lab and researchers in Ottawa, adding how “it’s really great to be in a place like where in the same building there is work that could potentially change Max’s life – you can’t say that about many workplaces.”
The last event for the summer, Max’s Big Climb, took place on Saturday, July 15. Similar to last year, it occurred at the famous 143-metre high Sydenham Hill. The event consisted of competitive head-to-head knockout races. “It’s funny because the runner up from last year actually won the race this year, and so we’re happy to see consistent support from our participants,” says Sedmihradsky.
This year, Andrew Sedmihradsky, along with the Centre of Student Engagement, are planning a community innovation project set to take off on Sept 22. The project will invite volunteers with expertise in graphic designing and marketing, and aims to get more students involved with the initiative.
As for Max, Sedmihradsky says he is “holding stable and loves Max’s Big Ride,” as he starts to ask questions about his disease. Sedmihradsky goes on further to say “when you get news like this, it’s important, for me at least [….] I thought there’s still a chance and there’s still time and so you have to fight.”