GO BEYOND YOUR LIMITS

At 11:30am on Saturday, December 10, 2011, Canadian self-propelled adventurer Rod Wellington stepped onto the newly resurfaced 400 metre track behind Ursuline College in Chatham, Ontario with two goals in mind. He was there to not only help raise money for Chatham’s local food bank, Outreach For Hunger, but to also challenge himself both mentally and physically by attempting to walk around the track 250 times in less than 24 hours, a total distance of 100km. His efforts, however, would not go unnoticed. Wellington’s walk was not merely some masochistic endurance test. He was actually doing this for a reason – a very good reason. Some might even say a cause.

Back in September 2011, Wellington launched the first in a series of fundraising walks called Go Beyond Your Limits. The walk’s premise was to engage people in the belief that they are capable of achieving much more in their lives. By challenging themselves both mentally and physically, Wellington hoped they would discover their limits and push themselves to go beyond their limits. Powerful lessons learned from these “exercise experiments” could then be easily applied to many areas of one’s life.

“When obstacles arise in our daily lives, the mental strength derived from self-imposed challenges such as these only helps to harden our resolve and our resiliency.” says Wellington. “Fear exists only as a warning that something in our life has become “abnormal”. Every fear we possess is based on an experience from our past that we have somehow come to view as being negative. Because of this, when we feel the all-too-familiar pang of fear, we often react (re-act) as we had in the past, repeating an unhealthy pattern that served us little use then and serves us even less use now.

Moving away from that form of impractical thinking, we can instead view fear as an opportunity; a chance to push the evolutionary gas-pedal to the floor and zoom past our imagined limitations. We are truly capable of achieving so much more than we believe. Positive self-belief is fear’s worst enemy. Courage and conviction can trump any fear.”

Based on a self-imposed challenge that Wellington dreamt up during a visit to Chatham during the winter of 2010, the first Go Beyond Your Limits walk encompassed a 55km rural route that circled the city of Chatham without actually entering its city limits. Wellington’s choice to make the walk a fundraiser came during a moment of epiphanic cleansing.

“I was in the shower one day and realized that, with this walk, I had the perfect opportunity to translate effort into money. I realized that there existed the possibility to not only heighten public awareness to the positive health benefits of simple exercise and self-propelled travel, but also to the fact that many people, including children, go hungry everyday right here in Chatham-Kent. That last fact, to me, was unacceptable. So, I decided to do something about it.”

With help from his sister, Carrie Formosa, Wellington transformed the idea of going beyond his limits into a full-fledged fundraiser, with all proceeds going to Chatham’s local food bank, Outreach For Hunger.

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The municipality of Chatham-Kent, as Wellington would come to find out, is truly a giving community. Perhaps this well-spring of generosity can be linked to the area’s abundantly rich soil. Good things tend to grow heartily from a foundation that is rooted deep with love and respect for things simple and pure.

In this fertile region of southwestern Ontario, there dwells a good-natured-yet-serious, salt-of-the-earth, nose-to-the-grindstone work ethic embodied by so many Chatham-Kent citizens. Around here, things get done – not because they have to, but because they need to. Each season holds promise and prosperity for those seek it. Fruitful bounty is a hard won commodity; highly cherished and wisely invested. And for those whose idleness is a comfort enjoyed too often, simple oversights compound daily. Chores neglected become debts accrued. Time thrown to the thresher today chafes at the heels of tomorrow’s feet draggers. Effort, then, is the only means of progress – just as it has been in these parts for centuries.

And just as these dusty back roads and lush farm fields have formed a quilted façade across the weathered face of southwestern Ontario, so to have rural families and city folk alike drawn together to faithfully craft a colourfully characteristic, close-knit community. The saying, “It’s not what you know, but who you know”, certainly rings true here. And deeply woven into this complex-yet-simple fabric that forms the ground sheet of Chatham-Kent’s commonality, is a centuries-old thread of generosity.

Although Wellington now acknowledges these interwoven commonalities shared by the citizens of Chatham-Kent, such was not always the case. There were times in his youth, particularly during his teenage years, when Wellington found this blanketed sense of familial comfort a misunderstood hindrance, a shady weight that seemed to smother and chastise the bubbling groundswell of creative energy that he could no longer contain within himself. Back then, he felt at odds with the city. He was a shouter among sheep, an artist who opposed hometown opportunities and instead sought out revelatory inspiration through anger and excessively loud music.

With eyes widened by travels and tribulations, Wellington now views Chatham-Kent much differently. Here he has been accepted, embraced, supported and encouraged. Here he is recognized for his fundraising efforts. Here, several times per week, he is kindly congratulated by strangers on a “job well done”. Here, he is made to feel that his efforts have meaning and measure. Here, in the heart of a selfless community he once abandoned for seemingly greener pastures, he is finding acceptance and abundant loyalty. It is here, in the city in which he once felt lost, shackled and suffocated, he now, most miraculously, feels as though he is finally finding himself. He has discovered a way to give of himself, to share himself with others without fear of being critically judged and unfairly used. He has found a way to equate himself, a way to relate to others more directly, more simply, more enjoyably. Most importantly, he has found a way to forgive. And while he still acknowledges the presence of a weighty blanket upon his sometimes-tired shoulders, he also admits to finding comfort in its warmth and familiarity.

“We may not all be cut from the same cloth,” says Wellington, “but we can certainly take pride in recognizing patterns both evident and familiar in the people who surrounded us then, and those that surround us now.”

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By partnering with Outreach For Hunger, Wellington has found a way to not only immerse himself in the Chatham-Kent community, but he has also found a way to raise awareness of an idea he calls “community happiness”.

“Donations are not just dollars given anonymously to a charity.” says Wellington. “Donations are actually investments in the community’s well-being. Donations to Outreach For Hunger go a long way in providing meals to those in need. But perhaps more importantly, those donations help create smiles and hope. Hope, like love and happiness, is not something you can purchase. You don’t buy hope, you give it.”

Instilling happiness in others can be an easy process, explains Wellington.

“Hungry neighbours are not happy neighbours. Giving a slice of our time and a dollar of our savings may, at times, seem trivial in the big picture. But when many partake in such actions, the results can be astoundingly compounding. Helping hungry people smile actually takes very little effort.”

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With the Go Beyond Your Limits walks, Wellington feels he is offering an open forum for discussing, implementing and improving the regularity of physical exercise in the lives of others.

“Preventative health is the first step in keeping people healthy. It all starts with personal choice and personal responsibility. I saw a bumper sticker the other day that read, ‘I’m in no shape to exercise.’ Although I found the sticker humorous, it also made me wonder how many other people share the same sentiment about exercise. I’m not asking people to walk across Canada, but I am asking them to think about the level of physical activity in their life and how they can increase the amount of time they spend exercising.

Walking is the simplest form of exercise there is. I encourage people to get out of their comfort zone, to take a risk. With the Go Beyond Your Limits series of walks, I am promoting a change in attitude toward exercise. Exercise doesn’t suck. It’s good for you! It’s good for your community to be populated by healthy people. Healthy people who are being responsible for their own well-being help reduce the cost of everyone’s health care. A little exercise can go a long way!”

Wellington points out that during the two Go Beyond Your Limits walks, 22 people walked a combined total of 425km and enjoyed a combined total of 113 hours of exercise. During the 7km-long Jesse’s Memorial Walk for Children’s Safety, also organized by Wellington and held in Chatham in October 2011, 80 people walked a combined total of 560km and enjoyed a combined total of 120 hours of exercise.

“As you can see,” says Wellington, “these three grassroots, homespun fundraising walks, organized by a handful of individuals with little experience in planning such events, managed to engage over 100 people to walk a total of almost 1000km, thereby benefitting from over 230 hours of exercise. To me, that’s amazing! And, we managed to raise over $10,000 for local charities in the process. It’s a win-win situation no matter how you look at it!”

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At 11am on Sunday, December 11, 2011, 23.5 hours after beginning the Go Beyond Your Limits 2 walk, Rod Wellington finished his 250th lap, completing his goal of walking 100km in less than 24 hours. By a margin of 45km, he surpassed his previous personal best one-day walking milestone of 55km – set during the first Go Beyond Your Limits walk. Wellington’s walking friend, Annette Nealey, and great-nephew, 13-year-old Alex Formosa, both participants in the other two fundraising walks, also set personal one-day bests of 30km and 50km respectively.