Quebec man brings people in wheelchairs up Mount Orford 19 times for charity

·3 min read
Fernand Courchesne, second from left, and a team of volunteers helped bring wheelchair users to the summit of Quebec's Mount Orford, in the Eastern Townships. (Submitted by Luc Côté - image credit)
Fernand Courchesne, second from left, and a team of volunteers helped bring wheelchair users to the summit of Quebec's Mount Orford, in the Eastern Townships. (Submitted by Luc Côté - image credit)

Soon after the COVID-19 pandemic hit and the Quebec government began enacting public health restrictions, Fernand Courchesne slipped into a pair of sneakers and headed out for some fresh air.

Courchesne, who was dealing with health issues like back pain and asthma, started with some speed walking to pass the time, as gathering with others was restricted.

He gradually got into running. A lot of running.

The 54-year-old soon found himself 60 pounds lighter and immersed in a new passion that was improving his health.

So he decided to take it a step further by organizing fundraisers for different organizations. Over Labour Day weekend, he put together one his most successful events yet — running the equivalent altitude of Mount Everest by climbing Mount Orford 19 times.

"I am certainly very tired," he said on Tuesday, but he was also happy that all went as planned with no injuries beyond his very sore muscles. "The recuperation is going very well."

Submitted by  Fernand Courchesne
Submitted by Fernand Courchesne

He managed to raise over $10,200 — surpassing the goal  — for the Centre québécois d'entraînement adapté FSWC in Sherbrooke, which provides services to people with reduced mobility.

But it wasn't just Courchesne going up and down the mountain on his own.

He had teams of three to six volunteers running with him, and they also brought 19 people with reduced mobility up to the summit, using specialized wheelchairs and straps for towing.

Climbing to the top

Participants started in the wee hours of the morning Saturday and pushed through to Monday, ascending and descending the mountain enough times to cover 8,849 metres.

The climb usually took between 50 to 90 minutes, Courchesne said, and the descent took about a half hour.

Submitted by Fernand Courchesne
Submitted by Fernand Courchesne

Hubert Goulet, 18, was among those who was pulled and pushed in a wheelchair up to the summit of Mount Orford, located in the Eastern Townships.

"It's a beautiful view with the clouds and everything," he said. "The descent was fast."

His mother, Julie Gélinas, said she was thrilled her son could, despite his illness, "live such beautiful experiences, beautiful moments that many other young people will never be able to live."

The objective of the Everest-Orford challenge was to help pay the salaries of the therapists at the adaptive training centre and reduce participants' fees.

Participants only pay about 30 per cent of the fee while, as a charity, the centre covers the remaining 70 per cent, said Luc Côté, who volunteers at the centre.

Éric Carbonneau/Radio-Canada
Éric Carbonneau/Radio-Canada

Director Carl Marquis said people come to the centre to recover mobility they may have lost in an accident or for help with neurological problems like spina bifida or cerebral palsy. The centre opened in February. Soon, it will offer services to children.

But fundraising events like Courchesne's are essential to keep it up and running, he said.

Running for a cause

Myriam Gilbert was among those who ran alongside Courchesne, assisting him through the challenge.

"I'm very honoured to participate in his challenge and at the same time to participate with a great gang, with all the strength of the team. It was truly magnificent," she said.

Courchesne said he discovered running was a great way to keep himself in shape and raising money for different causes is a way to keep him motivated.

Submitted by Fernand Courchesne
Submitted by Fernand Courchesne

"It was an intense human experience," said Courchesne, recounting the team spirit and joy everyone felt throughout the weekend.

He said he got very little sleep throughout the event. There was the last-minute planning on Friday and the heightened nerves keeping him awake that night.

Then there was the gruelling challenge that had him up early and in bed late, catching only about six hours overnight.

But it was all worth it, he said, because "I put a smile on people's faces."