Zach Hofer, a 13-year-old from Barrie, is gearing up for a 410-kilometre road journey from his home town to Ottawa to raise money and awareness for mental health affecting youths.
And so far he has people ready to join him on his journey and potentially a meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Hofer, whose ambitious project has been called Zach Makes Tracks, will run, walk, bike or scooter 25 kilometres a day, roughly the equivalent of a half marathon. He leaves on August 13 from Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre and is scheduled to reach the nation’s capital on September 10.
He initially set a goal of raising $10,000 for the Royal Victoria Mental Health Unit, which doesn’t have a youth mental health unit, but he’s already raised $33,000 and is hoping to hit the $50,000 mark. The publicity so far has been enormous, as has the support in other ways.
“He’s getting a lot of support from a lot of people who are bringing a lot of attention to it, so it’s really neat,” his mother, Shelley, says.
The Hitch House, a motor home dealership in Barrie, has donated use of a new RV for Shelley, and Zach’s stepfather, Derek Clark, to accompany him. The RV has been wrapped and tells Zach’s story. Shelley designed the theme and Auto Trim Design of Barrie provided the wrap.
Zach has drawn inspiration from Terry Fox and His Marathon of Hope in the ‘80s and Annaleise Carr, who, in 2012 at the age of 14, became the second-youngest person to swim across Lake Ontario. She raised money for the Trillium Childhood Cancer Support Centre for kids battling cancer. She and Zach have been in contact.
“Terry Fox has always been one of his biggest inspirations and Zach wanted to run across Canada, but we kept saying no for three years, but then we decided we wanted to say yes to him because we want the kind of kid that wants to make change and to look for the things that can be fixed and be different and be better,” Shelley says. “We obviously can’t do it across Canada, so we decided Barrie to Ottawa because Ottawa is where change happens and where we can ask the powers that be to make youth mental health a priority.”
Zach has some friends who have battled mental health issues, along with his mother.
“From what we’ve learned, 70 percent of mental health issues start in childhood,” Shelley says. “If we can get to those kids, maybe we can totally change the trajectory of their lives.”
Zach has been training twice a day since January at Mind To Muscle, a strength and development high-performance athletic centre that is providing free help.
“Every single sponsor has said they’ve been touched by mental health and mental illness,” Shelley says.
When asked how difficult it’s been so far, Zach said: “Pretty hard.”
While her son is short on words and isn’t keen on public speaking, Shelley says his message is strong.
“You don’t have to scream and yell and be loud – be the shark style leader. You can also make change by not being loud,” she says. “He just wants to get out there and help people. He seems to really be connecting with the kids that way. His hope is that people just keep talking about (mental health). He said to me that even if he helps just one person then it was all worth it. If one person reaches out and gets help and doesn’t listen to all the things about (mental health) being a weakness and such, it’ll be worth him running this entire distance.
“It’s incredible how many people come up to Zach and to us and start talking about their health and their issues and saying ‘thank you’ for doing this. Teachers have been responding from all the schools and have been saying the same thing: they now have something to talk about. And not only are they talking about mental health, they are talking about how kids can make a change. Many of the donations Zach has received have been from kids raising money in their schools. It’s great. We’ve got to keep talking about it; keeping the lines of communication open.”
For more information and to make donations, visit www.zachmakestracks.ca.