Innu grandfather walks 335 km to raise money for his grandson

·3 min read

Sebastian Benuen has always gone the extra mile for his grandson, Aries. He and his wife took in the now 14-year-old when he was less than a year old, following the death of his father, Sebastian’s son. They raised the young man, and when he started dreaming of a hockey career, they supported him every step of the way.

Over the years the family moved, raised money and did whatever it could to help Aries with his dream of someday playing for the Washington Capitals. They travelled throughout Ontario and Quebec for tourneys and in 2019 Aries went off to Canadian International Hockey Academy, an elite hockey school in Rockland, Ont.

The tuition wasn’t cheap, but they didn’t mind helping Aries realize his dreams. Then, in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic hit and work for Sebastian — an independent contractor — dried up.

They didn’t have the $50,000 they needed to send Aries back to hockey school so Sebastian did something at the end of this past summer that other Innu before him had done as a way to raise awareness and to raise money.

He walked.

Benuen, 56, decided he would walk from Churchill Falls to his home community of Sheshatshiu, approximately 325 kilometres, to raise the money to keep his grandson’s dream alive. Others joined him along the way, with a few doing the whole 10-day trip with him, and supporters set up camp every night to help them with the journey.

“We’re only a small community, about 2,000 people, but when something happens, we’re always supportive,” Benuen said. “When something like this comes up, we come together and I’m glad that happened on this walk.”

The story was picked up nationally and the GoFundMe they had set up surged with donations from across the country, topping over $74,000 by the time he had finished his trip.

Sebastian had asked not to be told about the fundraising progress until the walk ended on Sept. 8 and said he was shocked and overcome when he found out.

“When I got to my house that evening, there were a lot of people waiting for me, a lot of community members,” he told SaltWire. “It was very emotional, there were a lot people there. My sister told me how much we raised, and I was almost crying at the time, I didn’t think we were going to reach the $50,000.”

Aries is back at school now and unfortunately won’t be able to come home for the holidays due to COVID-19 concerns. It will be his first holiday season away. Sebastian said it will be hard not having him home but it’s not the first sacrifice they’ve made to keep his dream alive and it probably won’t be their last.

While the weather co-operated nicely, the walk wasn’t without its troubles. They walked for about 10 hours a day and Sebastian began to have leg pains. It was only in recent weeks he’s been able to go walking and running again, over three months later.

It was completely worth it, he said, and he would do it again if he had to.

“I’d rather not,” he said with a laugh. “But I would if I needed to.”

Evan Careen, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Telegram