Although she spends her days curled up with a book on her couch overlooking her picturesque backyard in North York, Amy Mathers is usually far from home.
It’s not as confusing as it sounds.
Inspired by Terry Fox and Rick Hansen, whose treks of thousands of kilometres raised money for research into cancer and spinal cord injuries, Mathers is reading her way across the country in a fundraising effort of her own.
Through her Marathon of Books campaign, the 31-year-old woman, who lives with a debilitating disease, hopes to raise $100,000 to allow the Canadian Children’s Book Centre to create a $5,000 annual award to an author of teen fiction.
Although there are awards for Canadian children’s books, there are no monetary awards for young adults fiction, a category Mathers finds compelling.
“Teen fiction has always been my favourite genre. I personally connect with it the most. I like it because I find it insightful,” said Mathers, who lives in the area of Finch and Bayview avenues.
“Teen books are about a moment in your life when the future is still being formed, you’re still forming your sense of self and figuring out where you are and learning how to deal with things that happen to you. You’re hopefully not jaded yet. And teens tend to show a lot of adaptability, which I like.”
Like Terry Fox, who dipped his artificial leg in the Atlantic Ocean in St. John’s, Mathers began reading books based in or written by authors from Newfoundland and has so far read her way through the Maritimes and Quebec and is now in Ontario.
Reading one book a day throughout 2014, Mathers will wind up her marathon in British Columbia on Dec. 31.
Mathers was born with glycogen storage disease Type 3A, a genetic and degenerative disease that prevents her muscles from converting sugar into energy.
She had a liver transplant when she was five and a heart transplant when she was 27.
While she can manage to walk short distances indoors, Mathers requires an electric wheelchair outside.
Because of her illness, reading has always been important to her.
“I’m a big fan of books. Reading has played a very important role in my life. Reading was always there. I was reading to look for characters that were like me because I was pretty isolated,” she said.
“But it was also about being able to experience the world in a safe way that I couldn’t necessarily do with my own body. So reading a book about somebody who could play sports was different. Or travel to different places, where I probably couldn’t go because I need a good health care system.”
Mathers discovered the Canadian Children’s Book Centre a couple of years ago and in October 2012 was invited to attend its annual gala, where awards are handed out for children’s literature.
She admits she was starstruck.
“I loved it, it was amazing. Getting to meet authors, to me, they’re celebrities,” she said.
“I came home and I thought, ‘That was wonderful, amazing.’ I never even knew that (the centre) existed but I wish they had a teen award and I wondered how I could do that. But I thought I would have to save up forever to make the money to fund that kind of thing so I put it to the back of my mind.”
Last summer, when Mathers first became restricted to her electric wheelchair when venturing outside, she kept hearing about different fundraising marathons and her thoughts returned to creating a young adults fiction award.
“I couldn’t begin to even think how I would raise that money,” she said.
“I was feeling pretty bad because I can’t run and I have trouble walking and I can’t bike. I would fall off, my balance is horrible. But I was thinking about Terry Fox and Rick Hansen and I thought about Rick Hansen and how he pushed his way across the country in his wheelchair. But I have an electric wheelchair. I was like, ‘It’s not going to mean that much if I’m just pushing a button across the country.’ So, I thought about what I could do and I’m a reader and I figured maybe I could read my way across the country. I modelled it after Terry Fox’s Marathon of Hope.”
Mathers begins reading a new book each morning, although that is sometimes pushed to later in the day if she has other commitments. She also blogs about the stories she’s read.
Given that some books have been more than 500 pages, she sometimes doesn’t finish reading until 11:30 p.m.
“But I take inspiration from Terry Fox because I’ve read a lot of books about him. I like the part where he’s like, ‘Sometimes, it’s just one telephone pole at a time’ and that’s all he can do. But if you add them up, it adds up to kilometres and provinces and he achieved great things,” she said.
“Some days, it has to be one page at a time, which leads to chapters, which leads to one book at a time.”
Mathers is also following tweets put out by the Terry Fox Foundation, which is releasing portions of the one-legged runner’s journal.
“I follow them and I love their tweets because I can imagine him doing his running,” she said.
“And some days, they have part of his journey where he’s like, ‘I’m really upset today, it was a hard running day.’ And I can identify with that.”
Mathers admits it was difficult reading books from Thunder Bay, where Fox was forced to abandon his marathon in 1980 when his cancer returned. He died the following year.
She read Thunder Bay selections on July 1 and 2 to coincide with the halfway point in her journey and then circled back to cover the parts of Southern Ontario she missed. She expected to be in Oakville or Brampton Thursday, July 10.
Now more than half way through her Marathon of Books, Mathers has raised about $12,000 of her $100,000 goal and is hoping more people will donate.
“I like doing this because I see it as everyone can just give a little bit and we’ll all be involved and we’ll all contribute to this wonderful award that says thank you for the books,” said Mathers, who is inviting supporters to read a book from every province and territory to be part of her marathon.
“Part of it is getting to read all the books I haven’t had the time to read but it’s also about sharing my passion with the country to say these are books that are out there and they’re so amazing.”
For more information or to donate, visit www.amysmarathonofbooks.ca