Questions & Answers
Q. How did this idea of a cross-Canada cycling tour cross your mind?
In 2010, while I was training on a bike lane near my home, I saw my niece Valerie Bilodeau with her husband and her children. She congratulated me on my first Gaspé tour and asked me this question with a laugh, “When are you going to cross Canada?” Unknowingly, she planted a seed in my mind. And now two years later, this idea which has had time to take root in my head is about to become reality and revolutionize my life.
Q. There is a big difference between conceiving an idea and actually following through on it. What was your motivation?
All my life, I always needed a challenge and nothing has changed since my accident. In 2010, I traveled 900 kilometers in 10 days by looping around the Gaspé Peninsula. The following year, I wanted to raise the bar a little higher. So I redid the Gaspé tour. I left Levis on the south shore of Quebec, but this time going through the south side, to finally come back to Levis. I completed this 1,425 kilometers journey in 14 days. Despite some pitfalls, that challenge has turned into a passion for cycling. This is the reason why I wanted to set a more ambitious goal for 2012 that is, ride about 7300 miles in less than 90 days across Canada.
Q. For which organization do you collect funds? Why?
I have been partnering with the Mira Foundation for my projects for three years now. I raise money for them so they can train more guide dogs and service dogs, like Mollo, to assist people with mobility disabilities or children with pervasive development disorders (PDD).
Q. What is the name of your dog?
My companion is called Mollo. He is a Labernese, a cross between a Labrador and a Bernese Mountain Dog. These are great dogs. Mollo turned five years old on February 19, 2012 and June 12 will mark the third year that we have been together. If you want to know more about his personality, click here to read his biography.
Q. How did Mollo come into your life?
A close friend gave me the idea to contact Mira to see if a service dog could improve my daily life. Although at first I was reluctant because I thought a dog would slow me down, I adapted very easily. We immediately became good friends. Today, we’re a great team. I am happy that I contacted Mira, because my quality of life has greatly improved.
Q. What does Mollo bring you in your everyday life?
When I received Mollo and we did our training together, I quickly realized that he would bring me far more than I could have imagined. He makes my daily life easier by collecting and fetching objects for me, and he is also a great companion. He never judges me, whether I am in a good mood or not.
Q. Will Mollo be with you during your journey?
Oh yes! We are going to share this adventure together. I am sure he will create a stir.
Q. Under what circumstances did you become a paraplegic? Were you born this way?
No, I’m a paraplegic following a snowboarding accident. A friend and I were skiing down a hill at Mont-Sainte-Anne in Quebec. I touched his shoulder, passing too close to him and I lost control. It ended when my back violently struck a tree.
Q. Were you conscious after the impact? How did you react?
I remember the accident like it was yesterday. It was the evening of February 26, 2004. I will explain. When my friend came to check on me, I was still conscious, lying face down against the snow. As I was choking, he cleared off the snow so I could breathe. I asked him to remove my snowboard. Then, I put my hand on my stomach and I felt nothing. It was at that moment that I realized that I would live the rest of my life in a wheelchair. I told my friend: “I’m paralyzed.” I lost consciousness several minutes later. Because of the shock, my spinal cord was severed at the fifth vertebra, paralyzing me from the chest down.
Q. How has the accident changed your life?
The accident has considerably changed my family and professional life, my conception of reality, what I do and how I do it, what I’ve become and what’s important in life. I got closer to my family who became my number one priority. One should not wait for an accident to realize that one’s family is more important than work. I may be paraplegic but I’m happier than ever because I am surrounded by wonderful family members and friends. I discovered the true meaning of happiness and I know now how to truly enjoy life. I savour every little delight; this is no longer a race against time.
Q. What’s your new philosophy of life?
Take time to enjoy the moment and live one day at a time. Life is beautiful and worth living. I always say: “we must live fully.”
Q. Let’s go back to your challenge of crossing Canada on a handbike: what are the key stages of your journey?
The first days will be the most exciting and probably the most difficult as well because I will be in unfamiliar surroundings. After a few days, I will have adopted a physical and psychological routine which will make it easier for me. There will be a team around me and we will have to adapt to one another. Then there will be many logistical and technical details we will have to review and adjust as needed. I will also have to be at all the press conferences on time.
Q. Do you foresee any obstacles during this journey?
Since I do not know the route, some stages may be more challenging than others and of course, weather is unpredictable. Fatigue could also catch up. But when you’re halfway, you know this is not the time to relax. Perseverance is the game. Since I’m positive by nature, I tell myself: we’ll see! The hardest part for me will certainly be speaking English because I have to admit that I need a lot of practice.
Q. Will Mollo walk beside you?
Mollo needs to exercise every day, but he won’t run as many kilometers as I will on my bike. I’m going too fast for him; his cardio capacity is more limited. I am thinking of having him travel with me about 10 kilometers a day. He will spend the rest of the time with my driver and traveling partner, Jean-Léon Laverdière.
Q. What is your fundraising goal?
My goal is to raise $150,000 by the end of August 2012. This is ambitious, but when you consider it costs $30,000 for Mira to train a guide dog or a service dog, all together it only represents five new dogs. You can always surpass a goal, can’t you?
Q. How do you think you’ll be able to reach your financial goal?
This will be achieved or exceeded thanks to the generosity of Canadians and the support and collaboration of partners and sponsors. We accept online donations or cash. Also, my marketing team and other friends will organize benefit events.
I am surrounded by a great team who will support me throughout the project. A promotional and media campaign will cover my journey daily through 84 radio stations within the Astral network. We will be able to reach millions of people. I am confident of achieving my goal.
Q. Who supports you in this project?
Apart from my family and friends, there is of course the Mira Foundation. The founding president, Mr. Eric St-Pierre, agreed to support me from the start by giving me plenty of time and providing me with the help of his assistant. For this fundraising campaign, Mira has teamed up with prestigious partners like Astral, Eukanuba and Publicis. It is through their support and contribution that this project has been possible.
There is also my marketing team in Toronto, set up by my sister-in-law and friend Fabienne Breton, who created my fantastic website.
Q. Can we follow you daily on your website?
Yes, and I very much wish you would. I encourage everyone to follow my progress on my website. Follow me with family and friends and invite them to give generously. All donations, both small and large, are accepted and truly appreciated.
Q. Do you have a blog?
Absolutely! Come and meet me on my website. I need your support and your encouragement. To save time, why not bookmark this link?
Q. Are you on Facebook and Twitter?
Q. How will you spend your days?
Every day, I will start with a moment of relaxation, visualization, prayer and gratitude. I will have a full breakfast, will confirm the route with my mobile team and then will tackle the kilometers one at a time. I will attend all press conferences. In the evening, I will have a good meal cooked by my personal chef, Jean-Léon. After that, I will download the pictures and the videos to send them to my marketing team in Toronto, and update my blog. A good night’s sleep will definitely be in order.
Q. Who will accompany you?
Besides cooking me great meals, my good friend Jean-Léon Laverdière will be driving my motor home and will follow me along the way. He is a very generous man.
I hope that my wife Brigitte, the love of my life for over 30 years, will be able to accompany me for a little while. Therefore, I will be under the care of my favorite nurse. My sister-in-law Fabienne Breton, coordinator of my Marketing team, will join us for the first two weeks to ensure the effectiveness of communications in terms of technology. She will surely act as an interpreter and be my English teacher also. A Mira team member will also accompany me throughout the journey.
Q. Who will pay for your travel expenses and for your equipment?
The Mira Foundation has worked hard to find partners and sponsors to ensure the majority of the operational costs are supported.
Q. How do you work out in preparation for such a large scale challenge?
I trained all winter long on a bike I installed at home. I have not calculated the exact mileage, but that’s what allowed me to prepare physically for this challenge. Mentally, as I said before, I do meditation and visualization every day. I’ve done and redone a thousand times the journey in my head. I know I’ll see beautiful things and I’ll meet good people along the way.
Q. What equipment will you use and what clothes will you wear?
I will use a Top End Force G 27 speed bike. As for the clothes I’ll wear, they will be the same as those worn by professional cyclists. These high performance and light clothes allow for the release of body heat and evaporation of perspiration to keep the body cool and dry. It makes all the difference.
Q. They say that you will be the first paraplegic to cross Canada on a handbike for a charitable cause. Does it make you nervous?
I did not know it until Mira mentioned it recently. Frankly, I do not think about it. What I care about is to achieve this feat and make sure my message is well received by all Canadians.
Q. How can we donate?
Anyone sensitive to the cause dear to my heart can make a donation online. Credit cards Master Card, Visa and American Express are accepted. Donations by cheque should be made payable to Mira Foundation Inc. and sent to 1820 rang Nord-Ouest, Sainte-Madeleine QC 1S0 J0H with the notation “Michel Garant’s Challenge for Mira“. For every donation of $20 or more and, upon request, the Mira Foundation will issue a receipt for tax purposes.
Q. Can we use a smartphone to make a donation?
Yes, if you have Internet access. However, you can’t via text messaging (SMS), because, like Mira, we are not yet connected to this technology.
Q. Can we use PayPal to make a donation?
No, like Mira, we use Beanstream, a Canadian company, whose on-line service payment is as safe as that of PayPal.
Q. Who are the members of your family?
My wife Brigitte. We are celebrating our 30th wedding anniversary in December 2012. We have two wonderful children we are very proud of: Pier-David and Priscilla. I have a wonderful family.
I come from a big family. I am the 12th of 15 children. What a pleasure to be together at family gatherings! The Breton family is much smaller. Brigitte is the fourth in a family of six children.
Q. How does your family support you?
I am truly blessed, because my family, and also my friends, help me in achieving my dreams. For example, for this challenge, everyone has contributed in one way or another. The support of my family is very important to me. I absolutely love my family and I am extremely grateful for their dedication to me.
Q. Do you ever think about your next challenge?
I always have ideas running through my head, but for now I am focusing on this one. Parallel to my cross-Canada journey, I’m working on another kind challenge for 2012. I have applied to participate in the popular Quebec TV show Le Banquier. I even had an interview with my fans. I am waiting for a reply. Ask this question again when I am halfway through. Who knows? Maybe by then, other ideas will have come to mind.
Q. Will we be able to walk, run or ride along your side?
Absolutely, I always encourage participation. And why not take this opportunity to collect money for Mira by being sponsored for each kilometer you travel? I bet you will be hard pressed to follow me while walking, but the important thing is to participate and always be careful on the road.