Endurance athletes often have steep hills to climb, particularly if they attempt a cross-Canada trek. For ultra-cyclist Vincent Nadon, hills are not his only obstacle.
On Wednesday, Nadon will set off from Victoria International Airport on a month-long, 5,600 km ride across Canada to raise money and awareness for Crohn’s disease, an illness which he also lives with.
Nadon defines ultra-cycling as any trip at least 250 km in length done in under 24 hours. He learned of the sport through his friends he met in Belgium, and when he saw the photos he wanted to be one himself. To date, the longest ride he’s done is the Ultra Challenge in Quebec, which was 1,060 kilometres over three days. He says he slept only three or four hours for the entire duration of the race.
At first, the cross-country ride was because his friends gave him a challenge.
“I was living in Belgium for two years, and cycling culture is a huge thing,” said Nadon. “My friends were like, “Once you go back, you have to cross your own country!”
While in Belgium, Nadon was also diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. He saw blood in his stool, which Nadon said was the first sign something was wrong. He felt more and more pain, and was diagnosed with Crohn’s at 26 (he is 30 now).
Crohn’s is an autoimmune disease that affects the intestines. The main symptoms are cramps and bleeding, but people with the disease cannot absorb nutrients normally, which in Nadon’s case affects his athletic performance and recovery time. It also can result in urgent bathroom trips, and increases the risk of colorectal cancer.
Nadon said there are many misconceptions about Crohn’s disease. He says because it is mostly invisible, people can underestimate its effects.
“Many people think it’s associated with a bad diet, but that’s not the case,” he said.
He said people have suggested his symptoms are due to a gluten or a lactose allergy, and he has to correct them.
The treatment can also be expensive. Nadon had been living without symptoms for two and a half years after a lot of trial and error in his treatment to find something his body responded to. But last September, his symptoms returned. Nadon recently switched to a new, intravenous treatment that lasts two months but cost $8,000 for the first dose and $4,800 for each subsequent dose. He says he is very lucky the manufacturer agreed to provide it without charge, because his Quebec provincial health plan does not cover it.
“Can you imagine if someone with the disease is not covered? Within a year, this person could go easily bankrupt,” said Nadon.
“Once you find the right medication and it starts working, you’re like, ‘okay, this is how I should feel!’” he said.
His Victoria to Montreal route is not the most direct. It has many hills, but also many beautiful vistas. He’s included places he’s always wanted to visit, like Drumheller and Lake Louise. He is traveling solo, and taking camping gear and water with him. He says it is partly for training, and partly a vacation, in addition to a fundraising opportunity.
“I planned it around the nice routes, not just filling the void between Victoria and Montreal.”
To follow him on his journey, follow his Facebook page at facebook.com/ACrohns.VNadon.