DRAYTON – A local man is biking “across Canada” to raise funds to fight heart disease and stroke.
However, he won’t be seeing the usual sights along his chosen route.
While not literally cycling from coast to coast, JP Fillion is aiming to cover 5,514 kilometres, equivalent to the distance between Canada’s two furthest points, through a combination of indoor and outdoor rides on his home training equipment and off-road biking trails.
He plans to hit the target by his Ride for Heart “ride day,” which will be sometime in June.
A Sarnia native, Fillion pursued technology studies at Lambton College and was working at Blackberry in Waterloo, when he and his wife, Jessica, decided to purchase a home in Drayton about 15 years ago.
They have two children, ages eight and 12.
Fillion was born with pulmonary stenosis, a heart defect that affects the blood flow from the heart to the lungs.
He has had two operations, at ages two and 18, aimed at correcting the condition and remains “borderline” for possibly needing a third operation at some point.
“Imagine that the heart is pushing the blood and it’s got to go through this (pulmonary) valve to get to your lungs. And it’s trying to deliver oxygen to your lungs, but the valve is restricted,” he explained in an interview with the Advertiser.
During his first surgery, “they cut the valves to allow them to open more fully.
“When you cut the valves with a scalpel that’s obviously a rough edge that’s left, not like a smooth natural one … Where the blood goes through, the valve is supposed to stop it, but because of that rough edge it actually leaks backwards,” he said.
“So my blood goes forward, and then it kind of goes back a bit. So it’s kind of like two steps forward, one step back.”
In terms of physical impact of the condition, Fillion says it’s important to exercise regularly to keep healthy and in shape.
“I bike every day to try and keep up with my friends when we are on the trails together, but they still beat me because it just takes a lot more effort for me to do it … 10, 20 minutes in, I am dripping with sweat,” he notes.
Despite growing up with a heart condition, Fillion has always loved to bike.
“My parents ‘let me’ take over their garage and turn it into a bike shop. I collected parts around town others discarded and built bikes until I had enough for everyone in the neighbourhood – ‘free bikes for all,’” he explains in an online bio on his Ride for Heart page.
“We rode all over town and I never once thought about my heart limiting me.
“My cardiologist told me that I should play and be a normal boy, so I did.”
In 2005 Fillion tore ligaments in his spine and suffered an annular tear to a disc in a biking accident.
“It took me three months to walk again and it would be six years before I got back on a bike,” he wrote.
“This was the first in a series of accidents and diagnoses that would test my physical and mental health.
“With each recovery, I progressed from biking on the road to gravel paths to more challenging rocky/muddy paths.
He added, “My wife was a great support. She bought me a GoPro (a camera to mount on his bike) and challenged me to go on more difficult trails.”
Although he rode his bicycle in Heart and Stroke fundraisers as a youth, 2021 was Fillion’s first time participating in the Ride for Heart campaign.
In May 2021, just as the campaign was ramping up, he hit a major setback, separating his shoulder in a mountain bike crash.
Desperate to get back on his bike, he took on an intensive physiotherapy program.
“The moment I could sit on my bike again, I did. I began biking as a form of physical therapy, targeting movements that worked my shoulder,” he stated.
“Each time I rode, I felt my shoulder get stronger. Until finally I was confident I could participate in Ride for Heart.”
Although he had set an initial fundraising goal of $100, he was up to $500 shortly after his page went live on the Ride for Stoke site.
He upped his goal to $1,000 and quadrupled his distance goal.
“Although my shoulder was only 90 per cent recovered for the Ride for Heart event day, I decided I would ride 20 kilometres of off-road mountain biking trails followed by five kilometres of road biking with my daughter, in a heart-shape,” he recalls.
“By the end of the June 6 event, I rode a total of 105 kilometres.”
He brought in $1,200 on his first Ride for Heart.
In 2022, Fillion decided to start biking daily at the end of January.
The 2022 ride was complicated with the reality that Fillion’s mother had been diagnosed with cancer and required surgery.
She began physiotherapy in January, around the same time he acquired his indoor training equipment, which simulates off-road cycling.
“I was like, ‘Okay, I got this. I’m doing 5k a day. I’ll do this with your physio’ and 5k turned into 20,” said Fillion
“So, I calculated if I keep doing 20k a day, I can get to 2,000 kilometres by June for a Ride for Heart … So that was my goal for 2022.
He ended up with over 3,000km, good for third in total distance among participants, wrapping up with a 25km off-road ride and raising over $2,400.
“So I kept going with that momentum and doing it kind of every day, kind of in solidarity with my mom’s physio,” he said.
Fillion’s mother passed away in September.
“But I didn’t want to quit,” he recalls.
“So I kept going every day. I just missed a couple of days, when she went into a coma and the day of her funeral.
“By the end of the year I had biked over 7,000 kilometres and I was like, ‘Oh man, that’s a huge distance … what is it even compared to?”
Turns out it was more than comparable to the distance across Canada.
“The longest distance across Canada from east to west is 5,514 kilometres from Cape Spear in Labrador, to the Yukon/Alaskan boundary,” said Fillion, who decided to make that distance his 2023 Ride for Heart goal.
Starting out by averaging more than 50km a day, including at least twice a week outdoors in all kinds of weather, Fillion had logged more than 1,000km after 20 days. He was biking from 1.5 to over two hours daily.
At that point he decided to slow the pace.
“I couldn’t do 50k a day anymore. After 20 days, that was really exhausting. I was really starting to feel it,” he recalls.
Calculating back to Jan.1, and factoring in his quick start, Fillion estimated a 33.3 kilometre/day average would have him at his goal by June.
“Some days I’m pretty tired and I don’t do 33. Some days I just can’t. But I do something every day.
Fillion plans to wrap up his Ride for Heart with an event day at The Hydrocut, a Kitchener-area facility featuring an extensive mountain bike trail system, where friends and fellow cyclists can join him for the ride.
The final ride date in June has yet to be determined.
For this year’s campaign, Fillion has set a modest increase to his fundraising goal. He’s hoping to raise at least $2,500 to top last year’s total.
He’s already off to a great start.
On March 7 he received an email from Ride for Heart congratulating him for exceeding the $1,200 mark in the 2023 campaign.
“Biking with JP is the top fundraiser in Canada,” the email states.
“This will not last, I’ll tell you that,” said Fillion during an interview the following day.
“Some people are going … to get tens of thousands of dollars in donations and I don’t know how to get up to that level … I’m just shooting for $2,500.”
To support Fillion’s efforts with a donation, visit his Ride for Heart page at heartandstrokerideforheart.crowdchange.ca/page/bikingwithjp.
The Biking with JP page also features additional information and video of a previous ride.
Visitors can also follow Fillion’s progress toward his 2023 goal on the page.