This is Part 4, the final instalment in a series of reflections on the Diocese of Saskatoon Catholic Foundation participation in a “Run for Reconciliation” in the summer of 2023, as part of The Great Canadian Death Race, raising awareness and support for the Indigenous Reconciliation Fund).
By Mark Nickolayou
Here we meet another runner on the diocesan TRC team, which ran the Great Canadian Death Race in August 2023. It’s a pleasure to bring this story all together at Christmas, a time of giving and reflection.
We have found forgiveness, hope, and now unity in this story, characteristics that are part of what reconciliation is about and what all of us may need to focus on as we reflect on our own journeys and how we can help others to ultimately help ourselves.
Fourth runner Hiroshige Watanabe (pronounced Wha-ton-a-bay), was born in Sakura, Chiba prefecture, Japan, which has a population of 170,601, and currently lives in Edmonton, Alberta.
He emigrated to Canada after travelling, and decided he wanted to stay. He says he started running at a young age, around six years old, and that running was part of his family life. Even though he ran many marathons, he didn’t start running ultras until he was 30.
His first ultra marathon was 125 km. “So my thought was that I can do a marathon in three hours and that race is basically three marathons and so they give you 24 hours, just to go slow,” he says. “But I was wrong.” The second ultra he attempted was the Blackfoot race of 100 km. and he finished it, but wanted to try the Death Race again.
Prior to his second attempt more preparation was needed, so he attended the Death Race training camp whereby you run/walk through the entire course, which was extremely helpful, so much so that he finished the race at 22 hours.
He has completed the Death Race 14 times; you read correctly, 14 — but not without incredible amounts of training and preparation, disappointment and upset. He ran several times without finishing, once with only a few minutes past the cut off.
He ran legs 4 and 5 of this race, 53 kms, all through the night, and was awe inspiring as I saw him come in at about 1:30 in the morning for the final checkpoint. His partner Angie Zee was there with his supply kit, and he trots in like he went for a run in the park: “everything is okay, legs good, feet good, I feel good, not too hungry, just some meatballs,” he tells me. As I walked over to get the meatballs, I thought to myself how easy and calm he made it look, but that’s Hiro and that calmness was with him everywhere he went, and he shared that with everyone around him without expectation.
He did find this type of race to be the most difficult simply because he wasn’t aware of how everyone would run, their total time before he could start, the team environment etc. But he said that he was so thankful to be asked, wondering what they would think. For him, that was the beauty of this: to be asked.
A great underlying theme here is that he emigrated to Canada by himself, without any family, none at all. Japan is 7,830 km from Edmonton, anywhere from 18-30 hours by plane depending on the price, so not an easy place to get to, especially for a family emergency. His mom is 78, and even though he misses home at times, he says he has no regrets about moving and living in Canada, and found it very welcoming.
That says a lot about our country, and often even though we have many policy issues that are painful to recall, including the WWII Japanese internment camps whereby Canada forcibly relocated and incarcerated over 22,000 Japanese Canadians, that didn’t deter him or his decision. These moments in history, although we don’t think of them this way, are teaching moments. Oversimplified, possibly, most definitely painful and require a cautious and careful discernment regarding what happens next. If you choose to hang onto anger or transgressions and how people have wronged you, nothing good can come from that. Eventually an inner peace will be required to move forward, let go and let God as they say, and try to experience the newness, the rebirth of where you are headed.
The need for this vision is more prevalent than ever as we approach Christmas and being part of the birth of Jesus Christ, reconciliation and reflection unified as one.
There are a few things to ponder after meeting these runners, spending a weekend in a tent for the first time again, and being around so many spiritual people.
How do I know they are spiritual? As you mill about in the arena during the introduction to the race, and the ‘shocking’ news about the trail, water hazards, poorly-marked areas, excessive mud bogs, etc, etc., you realize that no one is shocked, leaving, throwing their arms up in disappointment or dismay, and/or trying to accost race volunteers or staff about a refund because things might not go as planned and this race may not be finishable. There was a certain calmness and ease at which everyone filed out and knew the task at hand. I don’t know if everyone was religious and or even had an opinion about religion, however they had to ask themselves deeply if this was possible, and who would they ask if they needed help.
Team organizer Raissa Bugyi of the Diocese of Saskatoon Catholic Foundation had to consider a number of factors when she needed team members. If they failed and possibly didn’t finish, could they forgive themselves? Was there hope at times when all there was was despair? Would they find unity in a team in which members were not known to each other, coming from such different backgrounds? These are questions we can decide for ourselves, and we have to — daily.
As we find ourselves in situations where we later wonder: “how did we got through that? Was it supposed to be part of my life journey, faith journey, healing journey? What does it mean to live a life that has purpose, how do we define that?” – I believe we don’t get the answer until we are through.
Maybe we have a few bucks in our pocket and think as we walk by a homeless person that they have made their choices so it’s not our responsibility and that this person is only going to waste what we might give. So then don’t give at all? Only focus on ourselves?
When we are reading the current “self help” bestseller, subscribing to social media for answers, undertaking fad diets, navigating personality trait directives and character defect solutions, we often miss what we were able to achieve simply by surrounding ourselves with the right people and having faith. Perhaps we can all give ourselves some credit for the things we have achieved, albeit small, even when they had little to no faith. Someone else did, someone you can look up to.