The wolf incessantly stalks the caribou in Canada’s north. Smaller and slower, wolves use cunning and stealth to hunt and kill caribou.
For the prey, their best defense is to run, something they are renown for. Caribou, the kind found on the back of the Canadian quarter, are considered the most wide-ranging mammal in North America. They run for days, covering vast distances as part of yearly migrations.
Brad Firth is the human equivalent of a caribou, running from Vancouver to the North Shore and back again in a single training session. He runs marathons in a wicked time of three hours and six minutes and tests his will in ultra-marathons, once running for 18 hours. Brad, born in Inuvik – two degrees above the Arctic Circle – currently runs a daunting 20 miles a day.
A friend even gave him the nickname Caribou Legs. It’s a fitting moniker. And not just because Brad can run forever.
Wolves also chase him.
Addiction has followed him almost his entire life. First it was alcohol – at the age of seven he was hospitalized with alcohol poisoning. He also used drugs like crack cocaine, which he found plentiful when he moved to Vancouver as a young man.
Years of his life were lost and Brad hated the person he had become, feeling more dead than alive.
In the north the wolf kills only the weakest of the caribou herd. His lack of direction made him weak and easy prey to addiction.
So he started running. And running. Placing one foot in front of the other – left-right, left-right – gave him the direction needed. It also helped clear his mind and cleanse his soul so he could view life from another perspective.
Today his addiction is behind him. So far behind that Brad is putting his nickname to the test with an endurance run spanning more than 700 kilometres and lasting 12 days in the natural territory of the four-legged mammal.
Caribou Legs started in Fort Smith, Northwest Territories and finished in Yellowknife during his run this summer.
Brad didn't run for a cause. He ran for himself but also the people of the north. The run celebrated his sobriety and kept the wolf at a distance.
“I needed to showcase my elite running to the people of the Arctic to teach the youth what it’s like for me to run. Maybe spark some kids to do running, running marathons. Or maybe I can inspire a youth with addiction to come to his breakthrough moment,” says the 43-year-old, who was helped by the Lookout Society and other Downtown Eastside agencies in his personal battle against addiction.
“That’s really it. I’m not running for a cause. It’s more because it allows me to serve others.”
Brad, a longtime member of the Lookout’s LivingRoom Drop-in Centre, took his first strides Sept. 2, with a goal of covering 40 miles a day.
As impressive as it sounds, this summer’s run was just a warmup. In 2014 he plans to run from Vancouver to his hometown of Inuvik. That run will also be for the people of the North, to inspire them to fight addictions and unhealthy choices.
His people were traditionally physically active and spend much of their times outdoors, even during sub-zero Arctic winters.
He remembers an uncle who would run on snowshoes in the middle of winter while patrolling his trapline. That’s the sort of lifestyle he would like to see his people return to.
“As an athlete, as a recovering crack cocaine addict, I have a duty to give back,” he says.
“I don’t want people to suffer, to go through what I did. By returning home, with my strengths, experiences and hopes, that will give them motivation to say, ‘Hey, I can do it too’”