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Jamie McDonald: On Motivation

PROFILE PHOTO BY: Glenn Bonnett

I caught up with Jamie McDonald a few months after he completed his inspiring unsupported run across Canada. He answered my questions only weeks after recovering from what he called “one, big, monumental come down after being on cloud nine for so long”. Jamie talked about how he kept himself motivated when fundraising goals and world-records lost all meaning. What he learned from his epic expedition has the power to change your perspective: what really keeps us going is the people we meet, the friends we make, and the ripples we leave behind us. Tracy

What did you tell yourself when you woke up to get you going day after day even when you wanted to quit?

I had to keep telling myself that this wasn’t supposed to be easy and that no matter how hard it felt, I had to get going as people were counting on me. The expectation weighed heavily on my shoulders, but I guess I placed it there in the first place, so remembering that was important.

At one point, you posted that “the numbers” stopped meaning anything. The fundraising goal didn’t have the ability to motivate you when you were in the middle of it all. Were you surprised by this realization?  To what did you turn for motivation instead?

I was incredibly surprised, but at the same time and on reflection, it makes sense. When you think about it, looking at black and white fundraising figures on a computer screen isn’t ‘real’. My motivation came from the children and families that spent time in hospitals that I was raising money for. Seeing and hearing from the people whose lives I could potentially impact will always motivate me more than figures on a screen.

On the road, you learned that you would not be the first to complete this challenge. What did you learn about using “record breaking” as a motivation? Note: Jamie became the first Brit to accomplish this feat.

I have to be honest, it hurt me when I found out that I wasn’t going to be the “first” person to run across the country without a support crew. Knowing that I wasn’t going to achieve a new record felt like a motivational element being stripped from me. At the end of it all though, worrying about that not only disrespects Kevin Thomson’s phenomenal achievement, but achieves nothing. Pride and jealousy can be soul destroying emotions and finding out made me realise that although being the first person to accomplish a goal is a great motivator, it can eat away at you. My ethos is that no one can take away the people I’ve met, the friends I’ve made, the money I’ve raised – and that’s what matters.

People often use a big goal, a summit, or a finish line to give them forward momentum and to capture the imagination of supporters. After you left Canada, you wrote, “I feel stupid for ever thinking there was one big cake at the end – I don’t think I’ll ever take one of those crumbs for granted again.” How do you think this realization will influence your future adventures?

To appreciate (even more) EVERYTHING that is thrown at you, even all the hardships along the way. Crumbs come in all varieties – some are delicious and some leave a nasty taste in the mouth – but even the worst tasting food fills you up. Life is about appreciating each and every crumb, whether in the moment or after it.

Why do you believe the Canadian people embraced your adventure? Why was it something they wanted to support, talk about and share?

I suppose I attempted what I thought was impossible, especially with no support crew – I became an underdog and looking back now, I think that’s why people supported. During the trip, I shared so much of my journey through social media, to keep me going as much as anything else. I wore my heart on my sleeve and gave people an insight into what it was truly like to run across Canada. People like to support genuine acts of selfless kindness that will inevitably help other people and I feel like my pain brought a lot of people together. Anytime I thought about that pain though, I remembered Terry Fox and the fact he attempted what I was setting out to achieve with one leg and later on, cancer, showing the sort of determination I and others can only dream of.

You’ve had your cycling adventure, your static bike record and now the unsupported run across Canada. Over those years, what did you learn about yourself, your adventures and fundraising in general that made the greatest difference to your ability to fundraise for your cause? 

Never having been a cyclist or a runner prior to my adventures, I realised that I’m stronger than I could have ever imagined. Adventure can be whatever you want it to be. The biggest realisation is that if I accidentally discovered this by taking a huge leap into the unknown, then who else can do this if they try? Anyone can be a superhero.

In your opinion, what motivates people to give?

Familiarity with the person behind the cause, knowing exactly what the money is being spent on and most importantly, if the person has a raw connection to the cause – they will do everything in their power to give and also get other people to give, too.

What remains your greatest challenge or obstacle when fundraising? 

Publicly announcing that you’re about to take on a challenge that you don’t know is possible. Once it’s out there, the fear will get to you if you let it.

 You had a rare and intimate experience of the entire Canadian geography, cultures and landscapes…something very few Canadians have experienced or ever will experience. What mark did Canada leave on you?

Canada is massive but not as big as Canadian hearts. I will always cherish Canada, the people I met and the experiences I had. I think the journey taught me even more about the kindness of the human race, something obscured by the media scrutinising the negatives rather than celebrating the positives. The majority of people don’t get to see that we are, on the whole, good and hopefully, I was able to shine a small light on the fantastic people in Canada that showed this.

Can you finish this sentence for me? One person can….

One person can pursue their dreams and ignite other people’s, simply by trying.