Ivan Willis and Henderson Paris co-chairs for Pictou County’s M.O.R.E. run


Published on April 19, 2017

Ivan Willis and Henderson Paris, co-chairs of the 2017 Marathon of Respect and Equality, sign a proclamation along with representatives from Pictou County's municipalities.

©ADAM MACINNIS/THE NEWS

PICTOU COUNTY – Ivan Willis admits there have been times in his life he’s been discouraged. But one thing he has never done is give up.

“I never did and I never will,” he says.

Willis, who was named co-chair of this year’s Marathon of Respect and Equality along with the Run Against Racism founder Henderson Paris shared his story of living with an autism spectrum disorder with an audience at A.G. Baillie Memorial School on Wednesday as leaders from Pictou County’s six municipalities and representatives of various schools gathered to sign a proclamation in honour of the run.

Willis is a student at North Nova Education Centre and was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder at the age of four.  He explained that the disease impacts the brain’s intellectual function.

“Up to that time I didn’t speak any words,” he said. “My first few years at school were a real struggle for me because I was understanding very little of what was going on in class. It was also a very frustrating time because I couldn’t keep up with the other students.”

But he pushed through with the help of education assistants and support his parents provided and was able to continue learning. He discovered a love of reading and said he discovered the sense of power and confidence it could provide.

“I never gave up trying and working hard at it,” he said. “I proved to myself that it’s only by putting in that extra effort that I would be successful and happy with myself with what I was accomplishing.”

Someday he hopes that he’ll be able to help others students who suffer with learning disabilities like he did.

He encouraged those in the audience to do the same when they’re feeling discouraged.

“Life is meant to be enjoyed,” he said. “You may have to work a little harder, but the end result will satisfy.”

The Marathon of Respect and Equality will be held on Thursday May 4.

The theme this year focuses on empathy with a slogan: “Walk with me, see with my eyes, feel what my heart feels. Know me.”

M.O.R.E. was started in 2010 and builds on the work done by the Run Against Racism founder Henderson Paris in the previous 20 years.

During the run, participants will travel through all the municipalities in Pictou County and to Pictou Landing First Nations with stops along the way to share the message of empathy.

Paris also spoke at the proclamation signing and talked about the hours of running and thinking.

“I’ve thought about how things could be here in Pictou County. I thought about how things were. And not to dwell on the past, but the past is important,” he said. “I thought about all of that. I thought about how nice and how cool it would be for us to all be getting along in our hometowns and our home communities. People wouldn’t have to be afraid or nervous or upset.

He said looking at where we are today, he’s thankful for the progress that has been made and how much more welcoming Pictou County has become.

“We have advanced so far over these past 28 years.”

With M.O.R.E. he hopes to see that progress continue.