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Jeromy Farkas run for Big Brothers Big Sisters raises nearly $210,000

When Big Brothers Big Sisters of Calgary and Area announced that Jeromy Farkas would be hosting a talk and Q&A session about his 7.7 million step journey from Mexico to Canada, it didn’t take long to sell out of tickets.

That 4,270 kilometre journey, and the final fundraising tally for Jeromy’s Big Run for BBBS, were of intense interest for patrons at Canyon Meadow Cinemas on Tuesday.

Mayor Jyoti Gondek drew murmurs from the crowd when she said “I want to thank you Jeremy, wherever you’re going to be popping up from.”

Farkas himself had spent the previous 45 minutes prior to the mayor’s introduction inside an on-stage tent in order to surprise BBBS patrons.

“I want to thank you not only for what you’ve done for Big Brothers and Big Sisters, but I want to thank you for honouring the legacy of your grandmother who just wanted us all to be really, really good people,” she said.

“You’ve shown that that’s possible.”

The 168-day journey up the Pacific Crest Trail began with a $50,000 fundraising goal for BBBS. The opportunity to be really, really good people ended up with Calgarians donating $209,871.

“The community really stepped up. They cheered him home, literally every kilometre and every mile since, and not only in good wishes, and Facebook posts and likes and shares, but also with dollars to support mentoring,” said Big Brothers Big Sisters of Calgary and Area CEO Ken Lima-Coelho.

A journey filled with stories

Farkas unfolded the trip throughout the evening. He went through clips of his journey, talked with Lima-Coelho, and then an audience Q&A.

Farkas shared stats like only 10 per cent of people starting the trip finished this year. He told tales of trials and tribulations of rattlesnakes in backpacks, dangerous weather, and even hiking ahead of raging forest fires. The audience was in awe at how monumental the trip had become – Both for himself, and for the lifelong friends he made on the trail.

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“It was in those moments where the trail pushes you to the limits of what you’re capable of, but it teases back just an inch, and it gives you a person that can help you solve the problem, even when you’re stranded in the middle of nowhere, you’re losing faith that you’re never going to make it home,” Farkas said.

“It’s just astonishing the kindness of the people who went out of their way to enable us to do what we did.”

It changed him as a person.

Jeromy Farkas and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Calgary Ken Lima-Coelho announce that Jeromy’s Big Run raised $209,871 for BBBS, at Canyon Meadows Cinema in Calgary on Tuesday, September 20, 2022. Farkas presented some of his upcoming documentary footage, and took questions from the audience about his travels on the Pacific Crest Trail. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

Impact of the Farkas ‘brand’

Farkas called coming back to civilization an adjustment.

“Out on the trail, things were a lot simpler,” he said.

“You get up every day, you put one foot in front of the other, and as long as you can make a little bit of forward progress that means you’re successful for the day.”

After his loss in the 2021 mayoral election, Farkas still wanted to make an impact.

“I asked, ‘what do you do when you know that you’re in the world to change it for the better, but the world says no?'” Farkas said.

“After the election, I figured I still want it to make an impact, and I had this thing that I wanted to do. And I knew for better for worse, I built that brand, that platform, where just the sheer craziness of what I was trying to do would turn heads and it actually got a lot of people interested in the organization the fundraising.”

Cash wasn’t the only big impact: Lima-Coelho

Lima-Coelho said that one of the biggest impacts from Jeromy’s Big Run wasn’t just raising nearly $210,000. It was the number of new people that Farkas got to become involved with BBBS.

“The dollar number is important, but we’ve attracted almost 1,000 new donors to the organization, which means we’ve got 1,000 more people that believe in our mission or at least know a little bit about it through Jeromy,” he said.

“Hopefully they’ll be a source of other gifts, revenue, volunteerism down the road, so it’s a very important thing.”

Mayor Jyoti Gondek presents a proclamation declaring September 2022 Big Brothers Big Sisters Month to BBBS CEO Ken Lima-Coelho at the Canyon Meadows Cinema in Calgary on Tuesday, September 20, 2022. The final total raised by Jeromy’s Big Run for BBBS was announced to be $209, 871. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

Putting aside politics

Mayor Gondek requested BBBS offer her the opportunity to introduce Farkas on stage.

“Mayor Gondek didn’t get a call from us to say come and meet Jeromy. She called us and said ‘I’d like to honour what he did for you, I’d like to honour what he did for the kids,'” said Lima-Coelho.

“Given that they had a political campaign for the ages that tells me that we can move past polarization when it’s the right thing, and frankly it feels good, and I think it feels good to both of them.”

On stage, Mayor Gondek spoke about she grew to know Farkas during their time together on council, and on the importance of not taking the hurt outside of chambers.

“We would get into a battle, we’d come out, and we’d agree that we disagree in there but then we would sit down and have our meal,” she said.

“He would tell me about things he was struggling with, I would share with him my struggles, and we would talk about our families.”

The mayor said it’s OK to disagree. But you don’t hurt people when they’re down.

“I’m very proud to say that Jeromy supported me when I was struggling with things in my life, and I supported him when he was going through his struggles,” she said.

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She said that even when she went through the 2021 election, she and Farkas still spoke. Mayor Gondek acknowledged it was an “ugly” election, and to outsiders it seemed as if the two couldn’t have been friends.

“We always shook hands, we always spoke with each other, even in the debates when they got heated, I realized that I could walk out and this person understood that I was a human being and we could have a conversation together,” she said.

Public gets opaque view of politicians

Farkas said that the public and the media don’t always get a full picture of a person when they’re a politician.

“For somebody like Mayor Gondek, the idea of me running from Mexico to Canada didn’t come as anywhere near a surprise. Same thing with the Mayor Nenshi, because when you’re in these meetings together you start to get to know them really, really well,” he said.

Former Mayor Naheed Nenshi was also in attendance for Tuesday’s event. Other current members of council including Dan McLean, Kourtney Penner, and Sean Chu also attended.

MLA Richard Gotfried spoke about Farkas on stage. As a Progressive Conservative, he would have coffee with Farkas who was, at the time, a member of the Wildrose party.

“We have continued to build our friendships through shared commitment to the communities, city, province, and country we both love, which I know is shared with many of you in this room, and most certainly the public officials and some of the retired public officials with us here today,” Gotfried said.

Jeromy Farkas shows off a video of part of his journey during the first 30 days to supporters of Big Brothers Big Sisters at Canyon Meadows Cinema in Calgary on Tuesday, September 20, 2022. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY


On the Pacific Crest Trail, Farkas earned the name Pathfinder. First, sarcastically from his new found trail friends, and then for real after his use of paper maps helped his group find shelter from a mountain snowstorm.

“Well Pathfinder doesn’t mean you don’t lose the path from time to time. You just get back to it eventually,” he laughed.

He said throughout the evening, jokingly but also not, that he’s still trying to find out who he’ll be when he grows up.

Farkas acknowledged that after the election he could have become a highly paid lobbyist, taken a political appointment, or gone off to make money. He wouldn’t have had the opportunity to make the kind of impact he wanted.

“I found my own path and my own way to be able to make make a difference, and I couldn’t be happier about it,” he said.

“The challenge is always being closer to the kind of person that you want to be, and being out there on the trail there’s many opportunities for me to grow—on steroids.”

‘I just say it’s natural for people to be cynical’: Farkas

Over the past seven months, Farkas has gained a new legion of fans on Facebook and on Twitter through regular posts about his trip. He said that many of these are the same individuals who wouldn’t have voted for him, but have nevertheless supported him and BBBS.

He also addressed the people on social media that refuse to believe that he has been changed through his trail experience.

“I just say it’s natural for people to be cynical, and I just take a look at face value what we’ve been able to do tonight—$210,000 for Big Brothers Big Sisters, and I get that there’s cynicism out there,” he said.

“But I would like to err on the side of believing that people can grow, that they can admit their mistakes, and I’ve been the first to say that there’s a lot that I’ve learned about myself out there. I’ve learned a lot about what I don’t like about myself that I’ve really tried to focus on.

“I think we should live in a society where we want encourage people to live, and to grow, and to admit their mistakes. The alternative is you get locked in a certain persona and are locked in a certain picture of people.”

He said that by the end of his journey he felt like he had nothing to prove to himself, or any one else.

“I want to work on myself, and the mistakes that I’ve made in the past. I’m the first to admit that on election night, I was not ready to be mayor. Being able to admit that in such a blunt way, it’s uncomfortable, but it’s also liberating.”

Jeromy Farkas and the Big Brothers Big Sisters team at Canyon Meadows Cinema in Calgary on Tuesday, September 20, 2022. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

Next trail to conquer

Farkas has not yet said what he plans to do now that he has returned to Calgary, outside of preparing a documentary on his journey.

He recorded approximately 65 hours of video from the trip.

A book, he said, is probably off the table—unless it’s a coffee table book of his photos from the trail. A book about what he did sounds… boring, he said.

“I want to inspire somebody else to do the same or even bigger,” Farkas said.

He said that when his documentary comes out, it would be another fundraiser to help mentors and mentees at BBBS.

“This is not the last that Calgarians have heard from me as far as Big Brothers Big Sisters,” Farkas said.

Friends now and better for it

Lima-Coelho greeted Farkas back to Calgary at the end of August, just as he had been there to send him off back in March.

“I sent him off at the airport all those many months ago… and so darn right I was going to be there on August 29 to pick him up, dust him off a little, give him some sleep,” Lima-Coelho said.

“But he hasn’t abated one minute. We’re still having meetings, we’re still taking meetings with some of his network, and other potential donors and major donors to advance the cause of mentoring through Big Brothers Big Sisters.”

“What’s not to like about that?”

As for the journey, Lima-Coelho and Farkas both agree it was an adventure.

“It was about a grand adventure, and it was about doing the impossible in a way that made sense that it could amplify our cause,” said Lima-Coelho.

Lima-Coelho said that although he knew Farkas before he set out, the deal they made many months ago to do something bigger for Calgary’s kids in need and put politics aside for that, has blossomed into something neither of them could have expected.

“We’re friends now and we’re better for it.”

For more details on Jeromy’s Big Run for BBBS, see bbbscalgary.ca/news-events/jeromys-big-run.