Daniel Cloutier got to the end of the line and the exhilaration of the incredible journey was still sinking in.
On May 1, Cloutier began the trek across Canada on roller blades in Vancouver to raise awareness and money for the Canadian Cancer Society and on Saturday afternoon, the 21-year-old Winnipegger crossed the finish line in Halifax — bringing an 85-day odyssey to an end.
“You know what, it was a little lighter day and it went great. We only went 30 km,” Cloutier said in a telephone interview from Halifax. “I’m full of energy now. It was so surreal, it was amazing. Since May 1, I have been picturing what the end was going to be and thinking about who would be there.
“Crossing the finish line and seeing everyone there was so much better than you could ever imagine. It’s one of the best feelings I’ve ever had in my life, that’s for sure.”
Cancer has touched Cloutier’s life directly, as his uncle Tony Frechette Jr. (the oldest of six children) endured an extensive, three-year battle with cancer before passing away three years ago and his grandma was treated for cancer successfully more recently.
“It was very important to me because it was one of my dreams, when I was nine-years-old I saw Sheldon Kennedy cross Winnipeg on roller blades and that inspired me a lot just seeing what he was doing,” said Cloutier, a goalie who helped the Charleswood Hawks capture the Manitoba Major Junior Hockey League title in the spring. “Cancer has hit our family quite a bit, so it was important. I wanted to dedicate something to everyone that has suffered a setback, just like my uncle did. It was important for me to finish off the trek and raise money in the battle against cancer.”
Each stop brought new stories of people whose lives were touched.
“We’ve met so many unbelievable people, cancer survivors right throughout Canada,” said Cloutier. “I can’t even pin-point one person because we’ve met so many. It’s incredible.”
Cloutier admits there were some challenges that presented themselves along the way, but the inspiration of Tony Jr. helped get him through the hardship.
“It’s not an easy road and not all 85 days are going to be sunny or have the wind at your back,” said Cloutier, who is preparing for his fourth and final year of business, specializing in marketing, at the University of Manitoba. “If there’s a challenge that day, you deal with it, you forget about it and move on. Some days you feel like crying because it’s that hard. But you try to move it aside and keep moving.
“I saw so many eagles and hawks in the sky, hovering over me. For us, that’s a sign that our uncle is with us. When I was ready to quit or whatever, I looked up in the sky and tried to look for an eagle or a hawk to keep my morale up.”
To top it off, Daniel’s father Alain, cousin Yannick Frechette (Tony Jr.’s son) and girlfriend Chantal Courcelles were also on roller blades and were there to cross it with him.
“It was so special for all of us,” said Daniel. “I basically have everyone that I love so much by my side at the finish line. It was just unbelievable. Amazing.”
Alain Cloutier was bursting with pride when asked what it was like to be alongside his son.
“If you had called an hour ago, I wouldn’t have been able to talk,” said Alain, who roller bladed the final five days and 270 km with his son. “You put all the emotions together, you’re proud, you’re sad. You’re happy. It’s quite an episode coming to an end here.
“There was a lump in my throat and a pain in my gut. It’s every emotion rolled into one. I saw him go over the finish line, holding the hand of his girlfriend Chantal. It was great. It was overwhelming. You’re asking me to put it into words, good heavens. Words just aren’t coming to me right now. I’m sorry.”
No apologies necessary.
More than $30,000 has already been raised to date and the goal is to reach $50,000 and beyond.
For more information on how to donate to the cause, visit www.dontstopbelieving.ca.