The Kiwi Who Has Run a Marathon a Day Across Canada for Cancer

New Zealander Jonathan Nabbs has just spent close to a year running an 8,000-kilometre coast-to-coast journey along the Trans-Canada Highway. He wore a superman suit and had only a small trolley of belongings in tow. He surpassed his goal of raising $100,000 for children fighting cancer.

He reached Mile Zero in Victoria, BC, at the statue of late Canadian national hero Terry Fox, who attempted crossing the country with one leg while suffering cancer in the 80’s, and who inspired Nabbs.

“It’s all very surreal,” he says. “[I’m] grateful that this has happened, I reached Victoria, we reached the fundraising goal, and then reached the second one. Grateful that the body held up, grateful for the reception and the support from Canadians.”

Nabbs tragically lost both his parents to cancer in 2020 and 2021. “Something clicked in my head that’ll never go away, that you could literally be walking across the street tomorrow and get hit by a bus,” Nabbs says. “There is nothing to be scared about living the way you want to live.”

Two days later, he was booked to walk the 3,000-kilometre length of New Zealand on the Te Araroa Trail. Completing it spurred him to go bigger and tackle Canada—this time running—a habit learned from his late mother (ex-pro New Zealand netballer Margaret Forsyth) as a teenager.

The run began in St John’s, Newfoundland in May 2023. Nabbs describes Newfoundland in the way you might reminisce about your favourite childhood memory. He mentions the “insanely beautiful and spectacular” way that giant icebergs float down the coast past St John’s in the spring. It was a wet, cold period articulated with “outstanding, rugged, harsh” geography, yet contrasted with generous hospitality from locals. “They’ve just got hearts of gold,” he says.

Another highlight was the stretch from Kamouraska to Quebec City, a scenic route he was forced to take because running along the Trans-Canada Highway is not permitted in Quebec. He found passing the stylish, picket-fenced houses along the St Lawrence River in mid-July especially pleasant. The delta terrain is flat, and each village is fairly evenly spaced out, so it was easy to stop for tea in a quaint cafe, admire the immaculate village cathedrals, and then continue.

Nabbs also loved the Bruce Peninsula in Ontario, particularly running into the charming village of Tobermory. Based in the surrounds of two national parks, the area is known for its craggy coastline, plus the harbour has a number of shipwrecks you can swim out to.

When I first interviewed Nabbs, he had two weeks left of his 305-day run. He sounded tired but was generous with his time and honest about how he was feeling. “The past two weeks, my drive has been really low,” he says. “Physically nothing is wrong but mentally, emotionally, it’s becoming a challenge to get myself through each day.”

I couldn’t blame him. Completing a single marathon is a feat on its own, but to do this solo, day after day, is somewhat unfathomable. Nabbs’ social media feed shows him running in every element: sleet, snow, sun and in the dark. It also shows the stories of hope, empathy, community and shared experiences with cancer that drove him forward to complete his project.

After passing Thunder Bay, Ontario in October, the terrain and weather became noticeably more challenging as winter arrived. But charitable moments from supporters have helped combat the loneliness of running alone. Like a person sending him new sneakers when his pair disintegrated in the slush in Revelstoke or being given a night’s stay in a cabin at Crazy Creek while suffering a cold. Or having a big group of people cheer him on and run with him as he entered Sicamous, BC.

Along the way, Nabbs has hosted talks at schools and visited numerous children’s cancer wards. In both Canada and New Zealand, pediatric oncology receives little of the federal budget for research, which is why he chose to dedicate his fundraising efforts to Childhood Cancer Canada and New Zealand’s Child Cancer Foundation. “It’s also about putting smiles on faces and raising spirits,” he says. For Nabbs, it’s about being able to translate the desperation and sadness of a cancer diagnosis into more positive feelings.

A standout Canadian trait that Nabbs noticed through his experience is a positivity and desire to see other people succeed. “It freed up some subtle elements about my own worldview,” he says. “It’s exciting to be in a place that thinks so positively, things move freely here. If you have a good idea and want to do something good, it feels like it can happen.”

To donate to Nabbs’ cause and Childhood Cancer Canada, click here.



4 thoughts on “The Kiwi Who Has Run a Marathon a Day Across Canada for Cancer

  1. Lovely story of an amazing feat. Fundraising is hard. We love people like Jonathan and the organisations that use the funds wisely.

  2. Had the pleasure to meet this young man on a trail east of Ottawa. I was walking with trek poles and l mentioned to him that l had lived in his beautiful country, years ago !

  3. This is a very good story. It reminds me of the group “Grandpas Across Canada” who biked across Canada six years ago. Their ages ranged from 65 to 76. They did have a support trailer but had to take turns driving it across the country. They all raised money for charities that were dear to their hearts, as well. The youngest was my husband. They met many people also trying to walk, bike or run across Canada that summer.