Boston Marathon bombing and sexual assault survivor shares inspiring story with DC students

Jean-Paul Bédard is a tough guy. The marathon runner, who visited the Durham College (DC) Oshawa campus recently to speak to students and employees, looks every inch the elite athlete with his long, lanky frame and determined look. During last October’s Toronto Marathon, Bédard covered the entire route three times in a single day, running more than 126 kilometres to record a ’triple Toronto.’

Despite his athletic prowess, it was Bédard’s inner toughness that the students saw during his campus appearance. In his remarks, he spoke about his early life as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, a terrifying ordeal that at times during his adult life, left him on the brink of suicide and led him to drug and alcohol addiction. Despite his pain, he refused to speak about his traumas to his family until only three years ago.

“It had become simply too difficult to keep this secret buried any longer, and I knew it was finally time to start unpacking all of the trauma and get some professional help,” said Bédard. “I entered a treatment program at the Gatehouse in Toronto, an organization that specializes in working with adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse, and I have undergone extensive therapy with a psychiatrist and a trauma therapist.”

Running, specifically endurance running, has been a way for Bédard to help combat his demons for more than two decades. He was first introduced to the sport by two individuals he met during a treatment program for drug and alcohol abuse. Since then, he’s competed in more than 130 marathons and ultra-marathons and was awarded the Golden Shoe Award for Canadian Runner of the Year in 2015. The run, however, that stands out vividly in his memory was the 2013 Boston Marathon, where he competed and achieved a personal best time, but which was tragically disrupted by a terrorist bombing attack.

“My wife and I were on the street when the bombs exploded, and it was absolute chaos and terror,” said Bédard. “All that was going through my mind was that I needed to get my wife out of harm’s way immediately.  I think we were both in shock, and were purely moving on adrenaline and instinct.”   

Bédard will be back in Boston next month for 2016 marathon, where he will run to raise awareness of the needs of victims of childhood sexual assault. As an elite athlete, he sees it as his mission to help spark a dialogue on the impact of violent sexual attacks on children, a problem that affects one in three girls in Canada, and one in six boys.

Above all, Bédard left students with a message of hope for the future. As he puts it: “Don’t give up.  You never know where your next step will take you.” 

“The world of sports is made up of equal parts of triumph and defeat,” said Dr. Elaine Popp, vice-president, Academic. “Bringing Jean-Paul’s inspiring story of loss and recovery to Durham College reflects our commitment to developing the professional and personal skills of our students and staff so they can go out and make a difference in the world.”