While many people were enjoying the lazy last few weeks of summer, Victor Pietrangelo, a teacher in the Special Education department at Saint Michael Catholic High School, was running nearly a marathon a day to support students with cancer. Pietrangelo, who is also a long-time Niagara Falls city councillor, took part in a 1,000-kilometre run, along the Bruce Trail beginning in Tobermory on August 11, and wrapping up in Niagara Falls on Saturday, September 9, with fellow Councillor Mike Strange. The Box Run, which was first organized by Strange in 2012, always incorporates a physical challenge to highlight the struggles that children with cancer must endure.
This year, Pietrangelo, who has participated in every run since 2012, committed to joining Strange for its duration, and the two ran slightly more than 33 kilometres a day on the Bruce Trail for 30 days, in the heat and the rain.
Pietrangelo said he and Strange trained for almost a year for the event, running every other day through rain, sun, heat, and cold, so they could be ready for anything. But, Pietrangelo said, there are some things you can’t prepare for.
“One of the major differences we experienced was that the terrain was so much different in the north, as compared to Niagara,” he said. “For the first few days we felt as though we were mountain climbing, scaling up and down large rocks for hours on end. The Georgian Bluffs along Georgian Bay has large rock faces, and they are very challenging.”
Pietrangelo acknowledged that one of his inspirations in making it through the run was one of his former students, Julianne Miszk, who passed away from cancer in 2020 at the age of 22. He wasn’t just Julianne’s teacher, but he was also her guide runner when she competed, running beside her in races and pacing her.
During her time at Saint Michael, Julianne won gold and silver medals in OFSAA’s para competitions, including her last one, which she participated in during chemotherapy. Pietrangelo said he often thought of this during the run, acknowledging that Julianne pulled no punches, using her favourite saying, suck it up buttercup.
“Anytime I felt like complaining, I would always remember this and think back to what she went through. After always being a guide for Julianne, I know she was guiding me this time.”
When asked about some of the challenges that he went through, Pietrangelo said that despite getting blisters, shin splints, poison ivy, stung by wasps, and lots of muscle soreness, he and Strange never stopped moving forward.
“Both of us are well aware that children who suffer from cancer and go through treatment don’t have the option of taking a day off, so it wasn’t an option for either of us.”
This year’s Box Run 1000km Bruce Trail Challenge has already raised more than $60,000 for stem cell research for childhood cancer at McMaster Children’s Hospital, and Ronald McDonald House in Hamilton.