Inside Ben Wezeman’s year-long running journey for breast cancer awareness

It’s five in the morning, and Ben Wezeman can’t sleep. 

He tosses and turns. His mind races. The December sky outside is grey and dreary, echoing how he feels about his life. 

A nervous energy cripples his body. His mother was diagnosed with breast cancer a few months earlier, and Wezeman, 21, is thinking about where he’s going in the future.

After graduating from high school in 2017, he bounced around from job to job—working for a liquor store and construction company—while balancing his studies at the Justice Institute of British Columbia (JIBC). 

But this morning, he’s questioning if his law-enforcement program at JIBC is really what he wants to do moving forward. He wonders what he can do to make himself consistently happy. 

Fog hovers outside his window on this chilly morning in Port Moody, B.C., and Wezeman gets the urge to go for a run. He hasn’t run in nearly a year and a half, since competing in the Athletics Canada Junior Nationals 400 metre semi-finals. Once he lost the momentum from Nationals, his plate filled up with other responsibilities.

He doesn’t know why this urge is overtaking his mind, or where it’s coming from, but he follows it. He laces up a pair of sneakers, digs for Dri-FIT gear in his closet, and heads out the door without a route planned in his mind. 

Wezeman runs past his elementary school, Mountain Meadows, where he spent lunchtime running on the field and playing tag over a decade ago. He runs past Scott Creek middle school, where he competed in the running segment of the school’s annual team triathlon, and Coquitlam Town Centre, home to the track where he trained late in high school and embraced his talent for running. 

He comes home in a flood of emotions and makes a decision that will soon become the backbone of his future. 

“I’m going to run,” he later recalled thinking. “I just decided, ‘I’m going to run and that’s what I’m going to do for life.’”

On a picture-perfect summer morning in mid-July, I meet Wezeman in a parking lot at Coquitlam Town Centre. He strolls up grinning from ear to ear, wearing a short sleeved athletic shirt with a series of waves and the words “HAWAIIAN ATHLETICS” spread across the top left corner. He sports a pair of tall black socks, and his favourite running shoes, Nike Infiniti Reacts. 

It’s Day 83 of his year-long attempt to run every day for cancer research. 

In the summer of 2019, Wezeman’s mother was diagnosed with cancer. Thankfully, doctors found her cancer early, and, after two treatments, she’s in remission. However, she still takes medication daily, and when she was initially diagnosed Wezeman admitted to feeling down and unsure about how he could help. 

“I was really worried. For a few weeks I was depressed and down about it, worried, anxious, stressed […] It was super hard man, but I just kept faith,” he says. “I realized I loved running, and with my mom having breast cancer, I wanted to do my own part to [help other cancer patients].” 

After Wezeman rediscovered his love for running on that December morning in 2019, he started a GoFundMe on Jan. 6 with the hopes of raising money for cancer research.

He hopes to run at least five kilometres every day for one year, with a fundraising goal of $3,650—$10 for each day of running. So far, Wezeman has raised $1,260. 

Wezeman started his journey by running just five kilometres a day, but has upped his mileage to roughly six or seven kilometres a day—about 45-50km a week.

Looking at me and my ridiculously short running shorts, the smile subsides, and he seems a bit unsure of himself. 

“I know you run for [the University of Victoria], and I don’t know about your pace, but yours is probably way faster than mine,” he says. 

“Man,” I reply with a quick laugh. “Please, control the pace, I want to go as fast or slow as you want.” 

We set off for one of Wezeman’s go-to trails, a loop around the Coquitlam River, and we aren’t two minutes into the run when he starts talking about his excitement for the future. 

He tells me that he wants to run an Ultramarathon one day—a race longer than the standard marathon distance of 26.2 miles, or 42 kilometres.

“There’s one called the Canadian Death Race [that’s 125 kilometres] that happens in the Rocky Mountains, and another in Australia, Delirious West, that’s [322 kilometres].” 

Wezeman says that he has trouble achieving goals, and this journey was also a test to overcome his consistency issues.

By the end of Jan. 2020, after stringing together 35 consecutive days of running, Wezeman was in a good place, both mentally and physically. But, on Day 48, he felt a searing pain in his IT band—the thick connective tissue along the length of the outer thigh—and had to stop running, sending his streak back to zero. 

IT band syndrome, often referred to as “runner’s knee,” is a common indication of overtraining in athletes.

Even after his leg began healing, Wezeman wasn’t able to run like he used to.

“I felt good and excited, like, ‘Yes! I can start the journey again,’ and I would go out and it’s just pain right away,” says Wezeman. “The devastation I felt was hard to explain.” 

Wezeman took nearly three months off—using that time to research form and recovery techniques—before restarting his challenge at the beginning of May. His comeback was even featured in a Tri City News article. 

Although taking time off was difficult, and he felt guilty letting down the people who had donated, setbacks aren’t new to Wezeman. 

In the ninth grade, Wezeman’s focus was on basketball, after making his school’s team. He poured his time and energy into the sport until Grade 12, when he was cut before the year began. 

Looking back, Wezeman says, as we run through an underpass below a main road with cars humming above, he was cut because of he struggled to find balance in all his commitments, which included other activities in high school like academics, work, and social outings. 

Although being cut stung, Wezeman looks back on the positive impact it had on his life, and sees it as a blessing in disguise. Being cut allowed him to shift his focus to running and join a local Coquitlam track club, the Coquitlam Cheetahs, the following spring.

“In high school, a lot of people get discouraged about running because [in] P.E. class they use it as a punishment. In basketball, especially, as a punishment, you’re [always] running lines.” 

With coaching from Cheetahs Head Coach and two-time Canadian Olympian Tara Self, Wezeman finished sixth in the 200 metre at the BC High School Track and Field championships in his Grade 12 year. One year later, he qualified for the semi-finals at Junior Nationals in the 400-metre event. 

“[Wezeman] was one of those guys who was never an additional drain at practice, very pleasant, personable, and [with] some ability,” Self told me over the phone. “Despite some enduring issues along the way, he worked hard and he was able to achieve some success having come from not really doing any track at all.”

With the Cheetahs, Wezeman trained alongside Canadian national team sprinters Nathan George and Ben Ayesu-Attah. George ran varsity Track at Trinity Western University and won a gold medal in the 400 metre at the 2016 Athletics Canada Nationals, while Ayesu-Attah, who ran at the University of Idaho, won gold at Canadian Nationals in the same race in 2017.

 Self says it can be a challenge for someone with little experience in the sport to join a group with such high caliber athletes. She credits Wezeman for working hard, and the team’s culture for welcoming him in. 

“I remember when we told him, ‘This is what we want you to run, and if you do that we’ll take you to nationals.’ He looked at me like, ‘What are you talking about? Why would you take me to nationals?’” Self recalled. “I said, ‘Because you’re out here every day, you work hard, and we see some potential in you. We want to give you some exposure and give you a chance to prove yourself.”

“He took that, ran with it, and performed really well.” 

While Wezeman attracted some attention from a pair of local universities because of his athletic skills, he didn’t have the grades or money to attend postsecondary for running. 

In the fall of 2018, Wezeman’s schoolwork from JIBC piled up, and distracted him from an email from the Cheetahs saying they started training again. When he finally saw the email, Wezeman felt like he was so far behind in his conditioning training, which usually takes place in the fall and continues until the winter competitive season, that he didn’t see any point in starting late.

Wezeman didn’t pick up his running shoes again until that foggy December morning in 2019. 

As we approach the end of the trail, sunlight seeps through a canopy of trees, casting a spotlight on the park’s emerald-green moss. 

Gravel crunches below our feet and wind blows through our hair as Wezeman admits he recently quit his job at the liquor store to pursue a career in content creation. He started a YouTube channel last month, WeezyRuns, to document his year-long running journey. 

Wezeman recently started a YouTube channel to document his runs.

Wezeman says he was inspired to start documenting his journey by another YouTuber and former pro soccer player, Hellah Sidibe. Sidibe, who runs the channel, “HellahGood,” has run every day for three years, and strives to inspire people to get fit.

“I always wanted to do YouTube and make videos,” Wezeman says, “Ever since I was a kid [when] I was making weird gaming videos.”

As we run along a path circling the Coquitlam Town Centre track, Wezeman asks if we’d reached 10km yet. 

Looking down at my watch, I say we just passed 10km after 45 minutes. 

“45 minutes! Whew, that’s almost a personal best for me,” he says with a smile.

He picks up the pace and we climb the last hill to the parking lot. 

“This was the end of the 1km loop we trained on with the Cheetahs. I loved this part, seeing the finish line,” he says, his voice trailing off as he strides past the finish line into the parking lot. We stop our watches at 47 minutes. 

As if on cue, sprinklers from the nearby water park burst and streams of water blast from the ground into the bright blue sky. 

Sitting on a bench overlooking the waterpark, Wezeman shuts his eyes. Beads of sweat drip down his face. 

“Day 83, yessir!” He says. 

After some stretching, recovery, and a good night’s sleep, Wezeman will have his eyes set on Day 84, and so much more, tomorrow. 

Josh Kozelj is a Senior Staff Writer at the University of Victoria’s student newspaper, The Martlet, and a varsity cross country and track runner for the UVic Vikes.

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