Indigenous ultrarunner grateful for Canadian Ranger support

Article / March 17, 2017 / Project number: 17-0092

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By Steven Fouchard, Army Public Affairs

Great Slave Lake, Northwest Territories — Brad Firth may have only taken up long distance running five years ago but, in that time, he has more than earned his nickname: Caribou Legs. His accomplishments to date include a six-month run across all 10 provinces in 2016. Born in Inuvik, Northwest Territories, Mr. Firth is a member of the Gwich’in Nation who developed his running legs in and around his current home of Vancouver.

For his latest self-imposed challenge, which he started March 4, 2017 and completed three days later, Mr. Firth ran from Hay River to Yellowknife, taking a 200-plus kilometre route across the frozen Great Slave Lake. While that might not seem far – relative to a pan-Canadian run – Mr. Firth, who we reached by satellite phone on the afternoon of March 6, said the run had its share of challenges. Fortunately, he had an escort from members of 1st Canadian Ranger Patrol Group (1 CRPG), based out of Hay River.

“There’s five Rangers on the patrol who are escorting Mr. Firth,” explained 1 CRPG’s Master Corporal Robert Wilkins, “and we’re ensuring his safe passage across the Lake, making sure that we’re safe on the ice and providing navigation and accommodations at the end of each day’s run. Providing support to Caribou Legs confirms our readiness to deploy on the land or lake ice when required and gives us the unique opportunity to ensure a safe route across Great Slave Lake and practice navigation skills in the harsh northern climate.”

In the following interview, Mr. Firth talks about being an ‘ultrarunner’ (a long-distance runner who competes in events longer than traditional marathons), his efforts to change attitudes about women in Canada, and his gratitude to the Canadian Rangers for their help.

Where are you now?

We’re about 60 kilometres south of Yellowknife on Great Slave Lake. I’m well, very safe at the moment. I couldn’t do it without the assistance of these guys and women here.

How did the Rangers get involved?

About two months ago I made a request to the Rangers to guide me across the Lake. I reached out to their commanding officer in Yellowknife and they agreed. So here we are. We’re actually right in the middle of it – half way done and we’ll be done tomorrow. So far, so good.

Exactly how far are you running?

206 kilometres.

Why did you choose Great Slave Lake?

It’s all about promoting sport, promoting culture. Also to promote the civilian-military relationship. Just giving people a glimpse of what the Rangers do and the kind of work that I do in extreme temperatures running across vast distances. There’s a Dene hand games event coming up, so I’m actually running across Great Slave Lake and then to Behchoko, which is another 160 kilometres outside Yellowknife. I want to be in the opening ceremonies on the 10th of March, so I’ve got about five more days to get there.

Does this present many challenges for someone who’s run right across the country?

There’s all kinds of challenges here. There’s the wind. Sometimes you break through the hard-packed snow so I’ve got to use snowshoes. The wind is very challenging – there’s a strong headwind. I’m grateful the Canadian Rangers are on board and watching my back, keeping me safe and fueling me up with carbs and food. They’re paying a lot of attention to my needs here. I couldn’t have done this run solo. I owe a lot of gratitude to these guys and women here.

How did you become an ultrarunner?

I became an ultrarunner back in 2012. I started running long distances in BC, around the Vancouver-Whistler-Hope area. And then I took my desire to run up to the Arctic and I ran from Port Smith to Yellowknife. And then I took it even further, I ran from Inuvik to Whitehorse and then from Vancouver to Whitehorse. I just try to give people a glimpse into a healthy, active lifestyle and to encourage people to strengthen their mind, body and spirit.

You also run to draw attention social issues like missing and murdered indigenous women. On this run, you are supporting a shelter in Yellowknife.

Yeah. Every run that I participate in, it’s all about building awareness and trying to raise the consciousness level of every Canadian around violence toward, not just Aboriginal women, but all women. I’m just trying to challenge men to be better men – to support women and not dislocate women in any way – spiritually, emotionally. So that’s my passion. Every day I wake up I try to deliver that message to every person I encounter in my journey.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

1 CRPG consists of 1800 Rangers in 60 patrols across an area the North which collectively constitutes 40 per cent of Canada’s land mass. Members carry out over 300 exercises and operations each year in sparsely settled northern, coastal and isolated areas that cannot conveniently or economically be covered by other parts of the Canadian Armed Forces.

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