Marathon runner Ian Cunliffe is suffering. Since Aug. 8, he's injured his Achilles heel, fought off heat stroke, lost a toenail, is about to lose another and his knees have "turned to Jello."
So why is he still running?
Because the North Vancouver elementary school teacher and librarian wants an "honest talk" about the impact that funding cuts have had on the education system and the only way he could figure to get attention was by running 22 marathons in 22 days.
Cunliffe ran through Kamloops on Thursday more than 700 kilometres and 15 days into (literally) his marathon protest to speak at the B.C. Teachers Federation conference, which is being held at Thompson Rivers University this week.
He said he decided to attempt run from Sparwood to Vancouver after last school year's contract dispute between teachers and the province resulted in Bill 22, which Cunliffe sees as further gutting special needs funding and librarian services.
"Already because of a decade's worth of staggering, chronic cuts to public education funding, the needs of my kids are not being met," he said.
He said his classroom contains children with learning challenges who no longer receive aide because the scope for those needing help was narrowed to accommodate cutbacks and counsellors were reduced from one for every 320 students to one aide for every 1,200 students.
And while running through various school districts, he's been hearing about other "heartbreaking" stories, he said, such as one Kootenay school that emptied its library of books and turned it into a weight room.
"This is a school district that's under so much tremendous financial pressure they have to make decisions that should not be made," he said. "This is the systematic erosion of essential services in the education system. We're literally cannibalizing ourselves from the inside in order to keep this system going."
Not surprisingly, Cunliffe is being greeted as a hero by teachers and strangers in communities on his path.
BCTF Susan Lambert greeted Cunliffe at TRU with praise.
"He encapsulates in one person in a very heroic and gruelling run what every teacher in B.C. is going through," said Lambert. "It's hugely important that the public understand that the kind of conditions that Ian has in his classroom are in every classroom across the province."
Lambert said the BCTF figures that to keep the current education system going through inflation would take $330 million a year. Instead the education system is facing a $100 million shortfall.
"So the conditions in every teacher's classroom are going to get worse. And that's driven a man like Ian to the extent of doing 22 marathons," she said. "You gotta understand, this is a heartfelt thing."
One thing Cunliffe said he didn't expect was the private support he's received from principals and other administrators throughout B.C. who aren't speak publicly for fear of risking job prospects.
Cunliffe returns to his marathon Friday with a goal of reaching Eastgate and launching into Manning Park. He said he doesn't know if he'll reach his end goal of Vancouver by Aug. 30, or even at all.
"I hope so, but the fact is you don't know if your Achilles goes out or your knee goes out."
But, said Cunliffe, he'll run as hard as he can, as far as he can.