It’s hard not to try imagining what’s in store for Cochrane’s Russell Taillon after he decides what he wants to be in life, because he is definitely a ride-hard kind of guy.
Whatever pathways he decides to ride down in life, determination and persistence will not be an issue.
Russell relentlessly rode his bike along pathways and trails in and outside Cochrane nearly every day during the August-long fundraiser for kids with cancer called the Great Cycle Challenge – a national SickKids Foundation initiative in its seventh year.
If he had his way, he would have rode every single day in August. He still clocked 164.2 kilometres, raising $798 along the way.
In other statistics of note, Russell weighs in at 37 pounds and stands a proud three feet four inches tall.
He’s three years old, so his possible career choices are as unlimited as Barbie’s – doctor, teacher, astronaut, dolphin trainer.
And if his participation in The Great Cycle Challenge is any indication, he’ll fly as high as he wants.
His loves are biking, ball hockey and playing with his trucks, in that order. When asked by The Eagle to show off his bike, he disappears into the backyard of his River Heights home, and by the time the adults have made it into the back lane, he’s already done a couple of lengths of the block, pedaling furiously.
During August, he was single-minded and relentless.
“Every morning, the first thing out of his mouth was, ‘Can I do the challenge today?’” his mother Jessie said.
That wasn’t at or just after breakfast, she explained.
“That was as soon as his eyes opened, in bed.”
Russell is a bit shy with strangers – the strong, silent type.
But when asked if the reason behind his dedication to the Challenge was because of his cousin Jasmine, he doesn’t pause.
“Yep,” he said.
The family has had their share of exposure to cancer, Jessie said. Cousin Jasmine, 17, had leukemia. She fought it and won.
Russell gained an online following among family and friends during the Challenge.
Jessie said when her husband J.P. heard about the fundraiser, it seemed perfect for Russell.
“He’s young, he’s enthusiastic, and he asks to go biking every day,” she laughed.
She recounted when they explained to him he could ride his bike every day and raise money for cancer, he couldn’t believe his good fortune.
“He said, ‘Me? Really?’” she said. “Some people who saw it online were shocked. They couldn’t believe a three-year-old could ride that far,” she said.
The longest day started with Russell riding around Banff, then it was off to Canmore, then a ride around Canmore – a total of 30 km.
Jessie said his attitude is amazing, especially for a kid who should still have training wheels on his bike.
“He said one day, ‘Boy my legs are tired,’ and when we asked if he wanted to stop and rest, he said, ‘No, I’m good.’”
J.P., who was Russell’s main riding partner, said there were days his son had moments of frustration, especially when riding uphill, and even shed a few tears, but those moments were rare.
“We rode 30 km and then he went and played in the park,” J.P. said.
In seven years, a community of riders from all 13 provinces and territories have ridden a total of 20,179,047 km, and raised $39,125,144 in support of research to develop treatments and find a cure for childhood cancer.
Over 1,700 Canadian children are diagnosed with cancer every year. More than 32 every week.
Jaime Lamont, director of special events & sponsorship for the SickKids Foundation in Toronto said he followed Russell’s exploits online.
“You can’t ask for anything more from a three or four-year-old than to have that awareness,” he said.
“I wish I knew Russell personally, but I know of him,” he said. “Kudos to Russell and his family.”
Lamont called it “inspirational” to see young kids raising money for other kids’ cancer care even if they sometimes don’t have any direct experience with the disease. One of SickKids’ mantras is “You just want kids to live life, and not have to fight for it.”
“Watching a young kid like Russell doing this . . . you know, riding 164 km in a month is not a small feat for a three-year-old – some adults don’t get that far,” he said with a laugh.
“It’s pretty awesome, and it just puts a smile on your face.”