Gary Averbach, an 80-year-old former Richmond resident, finished his cancer awareness walk amongst a supportive crowd in Downtown Vancouver this past Thursday, Aug. 11.
“I never thought I would finish it. It feels good because it was long and it took me away from my family and my significant other. So I was happy to get back to these people again,” he said.
Averbach had set out on “Bob’s Walk for Cancer Research” on June 25 to raise awareness and funds for cancer research by walking from Calgary to Vancouver.
The walk was named after his cousin, business partner and friend Robert (Bob) Golden, who passed away from a rare form of bone cancer. Averbach also wanted to honour the memory of three other loved ones — Darlene Spevakow, Ronnie Onkin and Angelita Tica — who also passed away from cancer earlier this year.
And Averbach is keeping Bob’s memory alive in an unexpected way since many well-wishers just assumed he was Bob.
“I started to respond to Bob because everybody figured I was Bob. Once I’d been on TV, then I had people saying, ‘I’ve seen you on TV! Go Bob!’,” he said, “which is okay with me.”
Averbach had set out to raise $500k to fund cancer research and by the time he reached Jack Poole Plaza on Thursday afternoon, he had reached and even exceeded the goal.
“I was pretty sure I could raise it, but what really humbled me was all the small amounts that came from people that I don’t know,” he said.
‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’
When Richmond News last checked in with Averbach in July, he had just passed the halfway mark for his walk.
“I feel like I’m ten years younger,” he had said, after walking continuously for almost a month.
After another month of walking, the verdict has not changed despite challenging terrains such as mountains and the desert — and extreme weather that reached 40 degrees Celsius.
“Those are the toughest things, whenever I had to walk up a hill,” said Averbach.
The weather would either be extremely hot or it would rain and he would think to himself, "God, I don’t know if I can do this.”
“But I did it and I (would be) a little sore that day. But the next morning I woke up feeling just fine. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and stronger,” he said.
The same can’t be said about his New Balance runners, though, as Averbach went through nine pairs of them in total.
And whenever he needed some motivation, such as when he was walking up hills, Averbach would sing High Hopes by Frank Sinatra.
“There’s a lyric about what makes that little ant think that he can remove rubber tree plants, so I was thinking to myself, ‘What makes that little man think that he can?’,” he said.
“And I just kept saying to myself, ‘I’m gonna make it! I’m gonna make it! I’m gonna make it!’”
There were times when Averbach had to pause to get his breath back, especially under the extreme heat, but the feeling of reaching the top was a sweet reward.
“It was like that Rocky thing, you know… I felt like doing a little dance that I made it!” he said.
Onwards and upwards — or downwards?
Now that Averbach has checked walking from Calgary to Vancouver off his bucket list, he’s ready to try something else.
“I have a bunch of things on my bucket list that I still want to do but they don’t involve long walks,” said Averbach.
"I may (skydive) if I get the guts up."
Averbach also wants to go to Antarctica and earlier this year, he finally fulfilled his wish to visit the Galapagos.
“I think everybody should always have something to look forward to some specific thing coming up and they really want to do. It makes life interesting,” he said.
And to anyone who’s hesitating to go on adventures, he has one piece of advice: “If their doctor says they’re physically fit, then they should do it… People should not let their age hamper them from being physically active.”
“Do what you can but don’t risk your life,” he added.
In the meantime, Averbach is content just catching up with his friends and family and taking much shorter walks in Stanley Park.
Donations to Bob’s Walk for Cancer Research can still be made on the BC Cancer Foundation website and it will be closed on Averbach’s birthday on Oct. 10. To look back on Averbach's trip, visit his Instagram (@bobswalkforcancer) and Polarsteps website.