McAdam – For many, going for a walk is simply a form of exercise.
For McAdam High School principal and Canadian Certified private counselor, Bruce Van Stone, lacing up his sneakers was much more than that.
Nearly a year ago, on July 1, 2017, Van Stone created a goal: walk 5,514 K – the distance across Canada – in one year’s time to raise awareness of harm prevention. And Steps for Respect was born.
“I’ve worked extensively in the field or area of harm prevention, bullying, domestic violence, self harm, sexual assault, harassment and other forms of harm both as an educator, and as a private counselor, so I’ve seen firsthand what harm’s done to people,” Van Stone said in a telephone interview.
Using an application on his smartphone to track his steps, Van Stone decided he would have to average 15 K, or 20,000 steps, a day to reach his goal. He completed his trek on June 24, a week ahead of schedule.
Van Stone said he started Steps for Respect to create awareness and to align with charitable organizations across Canada that work to provide information to those seeking resources on harm prevention.
Throughout the course of the year, Van Stone sought out different charitable partners, and now has a representative for Steps for Respect in every province and territory.
“I looked at it as way of reaching out to the community and it started with New Brunswick, and it kinda went bigger. You’re hard pressed to ever find a person who doesn’t care about eliminating harm in the world.
“It’s something people can look at that’s tangible and symbolic and the walking kind of acted as a metaphor. I’m walking, I’m moving forward, we’re trying to grow, we’re trying to change things in a positive way and I just came up with the idea.
“… I just thought the walk would be really symbolic and something I could actually do,” Van Stone added with a chuckle.
Every single day, Van Stone logged more than 10,000 steps, with the exception of the two days prior to his finishing date.
“I really wanted to finish on Saturday and I had some people out walking with me. I slowed down; I ended up doing 7,600 or 7,500 steps just to make sure I could actually finish on Saturday.”
But as to be expected, some days were harder than others. In the fall, Van Stone sprained his ankle, and against his doctor’s orders to take it easy, he trekked on.
“I had already started, I was already so far into it that I wasn’t going to stop, and part of the novelty was doing it every day.”
Van Stone said he taped his ankle, and would put ice on it to manage the pain, and kept his pacer with him at all times to record his steps in his school building, or walking in the gym.
“There’s all kinds of physical challenges over the year, sore ligaments, my right knee was pretty banged up, but it paled in comparison to the mental challenge.”
Despite the challenges, Van Stone said the idea of what Steps for Respect represents kept him going, and said “it’s something I can’t even put into words how much I believe in.”
“I work with kids’ everyday, and it hurts to see other people hurt – not just kids, but adults, anybody. I’ll be blunt, there were times when quite frankly I wanted to quit because it was just – I have so much to do and I have a lot of responsibilities already,” Van Stone said.
“I’d get images of people, kids that I’ve worked with or people outside of my educational career. I’d picture someone who was battered by their spouse, or somebody that was sexually assaulted, or whatever I happened to think of at the time and I’d get an image of them and think, ‘you know, you’ve got to do this’.”
Since the inception of Steps for Respect, a website, stepsforrespect.ca and Facebook page have been created, where Van Stone tracks step donations. More than 38 million steps have been donated from people across Canada.
A banner with the words “I walk with Bruce” in three different languages – English, French, and Mi’kmaq was created. Van Stone can be seen in several pictures with groups or individuals with the banner.
Images have been sent to Van Stone from across Canada of selfies and people who have posed for a picture with their own banner. He has even had pictures sent to him from James Van Riemsdyk of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Canadian Olympic Speed Skater Catriona Le May Doan, Jakob Poeltl of the Toronto Raptors, as well as members of the Calgary Flames and Winnipeg Jets.
As Van Stone completed his trek, he said he thought a lot about how much Steps for Respect has grown since its inception.
“I’m not somebody that cries very often,” Van Stone said, pausing momentarily to laugh. “But I actually had tears, because it means a lot. I know that’s kind of a cliché to say, but I actually feel it. I feel the joy and the sense of resolve that not only I have but other people around me do.
“I know tangibly we’ve helped people, because I’ve had people reach out to my team, I’ve had people reach out on my Facebook page, and I was able to align them with services or resources that would help them.”
Although Van Stone has completed his symbolic journey across Canada, he’s not done yet.
Van Stone is now moving on to what he calls “phase two”. He said his goal is to solidify his partnerships with the charities, and to start hosting events – something akin to a Terry Fox Run, or Run for the Cure.
“The second part of year two is really about creating the next level of awareness. I really want to solidify an integrated approach to that where we get more personal stories and more people sharing what they’ve gone through, but also sharing the resources.
“And also to solidify the partnerships where whether you’re in B.C., Alberta, the East Coast, etc, there’s discussions and empowerment going on where I’m trying to connect the diff organizations together to share resources.”
Van Stone can be reached through his website, Facebook page, or by calling him directly, at 506-476-2207.