His grandkids call him Jedi.
As in the Jedi knights of Star Wars, wise yet gentle warriors who fight for the forces of good.
And Dave Woodhall of Waterloo has been waging a battle for good, through countless hours and millions of footsteps, as he ran a distance equal to the trek across Canada, to raise funds and increase awareness about Lyme disease.
Woodhall, 74, wrapped up his 7,389-kilometre trek on Sunday, with a cheering crowd of supporters.
For almost two years, in good weather and bad, Woodhall would go to the Stork Family YMCA near the University of Waterloo, at 7:30 or 8 a.m. every day. On the Y track or the trails and paths of Waterloo, he has run an average of 15 km, five days a weeks. He ran despite a hamstring injury and back pain.
He had no idea the effort would be so long, so hard, or so joyful.
He started the run out of frustration, anger, in a desperate effort to help his family. It ended up being an experience filled with joy, love, friends and sharing.
His daughter Wendy began suffering from a mysterious illness 19 years ago, shortly after her son James was born in Bahrain. Symptoms included pain, trouble with memory and concentration and a desperate fatigue. After reading a Record article about Lyme disease, the family was struck by how similar the symptoms were to Wendy’s, and began seeking tests and treatment.
Lyme disease is caused by a bite from an infected tick. It is a bacterial infection that can cause serious, chronic illness that’s often mistaken for arthritis, lupus, chronic fatigue syndrome or multiple sclerosis. For information about Lyme disease, see canlyme.com.
About 10 years after Wendy first fell ill, both her children began to show similar symptoms. Tests in the U.S. eventually confirmed they too had Lyme disease, possibly contracted from their mother’s breast milk.
But on Christmas Day, 2014, things took a turn for the worse. James, then 16, was weak and had lost weight, suffering from seizures and pain. Things got so bad he and his family had to leave the family celebrations.
Dave vowed to do more than sit at home and fret. As a keen runner who had run the Boston Marathon, he was inspired by Terry Fox’s Marathon of Hope, and decided to run the same number of kilometres it would take to travel the full length of the Trans-Canada Highway.
“I remember going around the track, thinking, ‘What am I doing?’ ” Woodhall recalls.
But he persevered, and got Y staff to verify his distance run every day. He has two calendars, with each day meticulously inscribed with distance run, and the accumulated total. The Y staff and members ended up being a huge support of his cause. Every Monday, supporters wear “Grandpa’s Run for Lyme” T-shirts as a show of solidarity.
“I wanted to tell the world that this disease has come to Canada, it’s spreading and there’s little help, and that we need to mobilize,” Dave said. “We didn’t want anyone else to go through what we had gone through.”
He has done that, raising more than $6,000, but he’s also made new friends, as people ran alongside him, sharing stories of their own struggles and challenges. “What I’ve learned in all this is that there are so many caring people out there. I’ve learned there’s a lot of love out there.”
He got the nickname Jedi as an alternative to the conventional terms for grandparent. James was born in an Arabic-speaking country, and somehow Dave ended up being called Jedi, which is close to the Arabic word for grandpa.
“Jedi is such a fitting name for him,” said James. “He has been just an incredible inspiration to our family and our community, to never give up, to continue with your goals, to be the strongest person you can be.”
“I knew he would do it,” said his granddaughter Elyse, 14. “He set a goal, something that’s going to help other people.”
“We’re all very proud of him,” said Wendy. “It goes beyond pride. That word doesn’t express it.”
Dave brushes off what he calls “all the kerfuffle.” He was motivated by love, he says. “For me, it’s more doing the best with what you’ve got. That’s what good grandparents do. And good parents and good humans do. It’s no big deal. It really isn’t.”