This summer, UTM’s Andrew Sedmihradsky and his four-year-old son Max, who has Duchenne muscular dystrophy, pedalled 600 km from Ottawa to Hamilton, across the Trans-Canada Trail. During their 11-day bike ride, the cycling duo passed by several stops, including UTM, to raise awareness and funding towards research for the cure to the disease.
DMD is a debilitating neurodegenerative disease that affects 1 in 3,500 boys. Victims have an average life expectancy of about 25 years. Through Max’s Big Ride, approximately $55,000 were raised for Jesse’s Journey, a Canadian charity dedicated to funding research for DMD around the world.
Sedmihradsky, who is a global mobility coordinator at UTM’s International Education Centre, had done rigorous training to prepare himself for his biking adventure.
“I knew that I could do the ride physically, but I didn’t know what it would be like for Max,” he says. “I thought that I would place Max in his front seat, and ride him around the corner. Once the press was gone, I would put him in the car and then I would ride by myself.”
But Max insisted on joining Sedmihradsky for the entire ride—despite the rough terrain, poor weather, and even swarms of insects.
“Once, we had to wake up at 5:30 in the morning to make it in time for the interview at eight at a radio station in Toronto,” says Sedmihradsky. “Max said, ‘I wanna go—let’s go!’ “
Throughout the entire journey, Max enjoyed himself greatly; he received ice cream daily and a massive number of presents. Near the end of the journey, their support van—driven by Sedmihradsky’s parents and his wife, Kerri—was beginning to run low on space.
It wasn’t all toys and fun though—Max remained optimistic during the tougher of times too. “There was a day when there was a big storm,” recalls Sedmihradsky. “We spent hours talking about ninja school and how to become a ninja.”
The pair set out from Parliament Hill, Ottawa, on June 21—which, coincidentally, was also Father’s Day. “I hadn’t actually considered that,” says Sedmihradsky. “But I did plan to end on July 1 so that we could join in on the Canada Day celebrations.”
Sedmihradsky’s original plan was to start early each day and ride for a few hours. Max and Sedmihradsky would then take a break with their family in a nearby park and then continue onwards. On average, they biked about 55 km daily.
However, things didn’t always go according to plan. As the cycling duo left Perth and headed towards Arden, they encountered a rougher path of the Trans-Canada Trail. As Sedmihradsky continued biking along the Trail, the water puddles kept getting deeper. At one point, he couldn’t continue riding since the trail was entirely flooded and the duo was being attacked by swarms of deer flies.
“Max had a cover on, so that meant that the deer flies couldn’t get to him. But every once in a while, they would hop in on the side and then all hell would break loose,” says Sedmihradsky. “At that point, I was asking myself: what am I doing to my son?” For that particular day, he chose to turn back and return Max to the comfort of the support van.
Despite the challenges, both continued along their journey enthusiastically and were met with overwhelming support.
When Sedmihradsky rode into Tweed with Max, he was shocked by the massive welcome: there were fluorescent signs, fire engines blaring their support, and several children present to celebrate Max’s ride. “ “When I made it, I was completely stunned,” says Sedmihradsky as he describes the scene. “I just told myself that I have to look busy—I didn’t know what to do!”
The duo reached the UTM campus on June 30. “Again, at UTM, I knew that something was happening,” says Sedmihradsky. “But that didn’t prepare me.”
UTM welcomed the two with a huge crowd—and more importantly for Max, an ice cream truck. As an observer present in the crowd that day, I can say that it was quite refreshing to see the support for Max at UTM. It was clear that both father and son were exhausted, but Max had nothing but smiles for everyone.
“The people who organised the welcome—especially my colleagues Veronica Vasquez and Zoya Tahir—were absolutely amazing,” says Sedmihradsky. “Principal Deep Saini was about to go on his sabbatical in a few hours but he came out to the event, so I was really surprised to see him there! Really, I was just amazed. I don’t even know what I was expecting.”
Their journey ended in Hamilton in time for the Canada Day celebrations. “The day it was over, I washed the bike,” says Sedmihradsky. “It was comfortable and fun—it was like a home.”
He says that his biggest challenge was not the continuous cycling or the rough terrain—it was about openly addressing Duchenne muscular dystrophy. “One thing that I struggled with was that I didn’t ever want to be in the spotlight,” he explains. “But I didn’t know any way to do this without putting myself out there to some extent. When I look back at it all, the biggest challenge was just taking it all in and saying ‘thank you’. I’m glad someone filmed the moments because I still can’t believe that it happened.”
Max’s Big Ride isn’t over though—this is only the beginning. Sedmihradsky is planning his next adventure. For his part, Max has already decided his own plans: he’s aiming to do a Mummy’s Big Ride.