For the love of life

Dec 03 | 2019

According to Steve Jordan, Walt Peniuk from Premier Van Lines in Toronto is an extraordinary man. When in Chicago he caught up with him to find out more about his latest, slightly crazy, challenge and how mere mortals can join in.

Walt Peniuk on the road to Chicago

Regular readers of
The Mover will be familiar with Walt Peniuk.  He’s the guy who, last year, ran and rode his bike from Toronto to Washington, DC for charity.  He raised plenty of money but, for Walt, that was just the start of what promises to be an amazing adventure.  You see, Walt has a talent … he inspires people.

It’s not something everyone can do.  Of course, we can all raise money for charity but inspiring people to believe in themselves, to challenge themselves to do things they thought were impossible, to try and to never give up, that’s different.  That is extraordinary.

Walt inspires people by a combination of extreme example and gentle encouragement.  I am sure he’s always done that - you can’t help but be who you are – but sometimes the universe just shows you the way and, in the last few years, it’s been shining a light for Walt.  Let me explain.

Walt is, clearly, an exceptional athlete, that’s obvious.  But it wasn’t always so.  Until six years ago he was just a normal chap working hard and getting on with stuff, just like most of us.  Then life took a turn for him, but rather than sink, he chose to swim. Or, as least, he chose to run.  We all have our ways of dealing with life’s traumas, for Walt, it was a life on the road.

He remembers when he began.  “I told a friend that I was going Walt Peniukto run a kilometre and, if I died, to tell the kids I love them,” he said.  It was a modest start by any standards.  That’s why today, he never belittles anyone’s efforts, no matter how humble they might be.  “I respect them.  I know how tough it is.  We all have to start somewhere.”

From there Walt progressed to his marathon journey to DC.  But he still wasn’t satisfied. For this year’s IAM he wanted more.  This year his journey took him from Toronto to Chicago – a simple matter of 850k … but this time he left the bike at home; he ran the whole way.

It took him 14 days at an average of around 60k a day.  That’s a marathon and a half every day, for 14 days.  For the first five days he could hardly eat, taking medication constantly just to keep some food down. Some days he was weak and disoriented from hunger. When his metabolism settled down he ate on the road, walking rather than running to give his digestive system a chance.  “I think I used around 7,500 calories a day,” he said.  I asked how much he ate.  “Not that much.  I started off at 150lbs but I don’t know what I weigh now.  I guess I should try to put some weight back.”  He was 165lbs when in high school.

He ran on roads, pathways and tracks. At one time he was in virtual isolation for four days. Sometimes he was exhausted, others he was elated. “Day five was the best day.  I felt superb.  I just ran and ran.  There were people around and it seemed as if I was taking my energy from them. I did 66k that day.”

Every night, when he shut down, he could hardly move.  The worst part was running close to the cars and dealing with the camber on the road which meant his left foot always struck the road lower than his right. “After about 35k you get a knot in your right thigh.  It just kills you. But it’s amazing how your body recovers overnight.”  Well, it’s amazing how Walt’s body recovers anyway.

I wondered if he ever thought he wouldn’t make it but, for Walt, it was never really in doubt.  “I was injured two weeks before the run and I wondered then if I would be able to start.  But once I was on the road, I was always going to make it to Chicago.  But then, you never know when your body will break down, but you can’t do anything about that.” 

For Walt, the mind and body are separate.  More than that, he even speculates that there might be a third force that controls the mind as well.  “You can say to your mind – stop hurting, stop messing me around, I’m not going to let you hurt today, you may not worry, you won’t be sad.”  He has no idea what forces are at work, but he knows it’s true.

Steve Jordan, Walt Peniuk and Richard DolanWhen he arrived in Chicago and saw the Hyatt Regency for the first time, how did he feel? “Just relief,” he said. “ I wasn’t jumping for joy or giving out high fives.  I knew that I couldn’t go any further.” But that again is just a question of controlling the mind.  He admits that if he had another five days to do, he probably would have made it.  But he knew it was the end, and his body knew it too.

In the hotel a day or so after Walt arrived, he was looking good and still following his coach’s advice, stretching a little and resting a lot.  He’d raised $5,000 for charity and is still counting.  That’s a remarkable achievement.  But that’s not why Walt had put himself through the agonies of the last 14 days. That’s not it at all.

The thing is, if you do things that you think you might not be able to do, you teach yourself that anything is possible,” he said.  “I want to pass that message on to other people by giving them the chance to test themselves in their own way.”

Now you remember that at the top of this story I said Walt is inspirational? That’s what I meant.  Take a look at his Walt’s Challenge website:  Do it now, before you read the rest of this article. 

As you can see, Walt is inviting you to join him.  Not in running 850k, but in doing something, anything, that you have always wondered whether you could do: lose weight, stop smoking, write a song, learn an instrument, learn a language, hug your kids more, sail the Atlantic … it doesn’t matter, as long as it matters to you.  All Walt asks is that you donate a little to his charity.

The money will go to causes that Walt himself feels are worthy.  There is a young boy in Iran called Reza, for example, who has come to his attention.  He was born with one leg.  His prosthetic leg has broken and his parents can’t afford to buy him another.  He can’t go to school. Walt is buying him another.

Walt also supports Operation Underground Railroad.  It’s an international charity that helps rescue children from sex trafficking. “I personally am shocked that this even exists in this day and age,” he said.  “I believe no one in this world should be subject to such horrific atrocities. I hate bullies.”

Whatever Walt chooses to do with the money raised, you may be assured that it will go to make a real difference to people who deserve some help. 

Sometimes inspiration comes from the simplest things.  It could just be a word, a smile, a comment or an apparently trivial act that changes someone’s life.  Without knowing it, we all influence people.  Some people give out emotional energy in everything they do, others take it away.  Walt is a giver.  Please support him and, in the process, surprise yourself, you are stronger than you think.  And always remember, in Walt’s own words, “Failure is not, not achieving your goals; failure is giving up trying.”

Photos: Walt Peniuk with Steve Jordan (left) and Richard Dolan, who both have taken on their own Walt’s Challenges, pictured at the Hyatt regency in Chicago.

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