Baseball in the summer. Skating in the winter. That was where you’d likely find John Wood as a young child. Born and raised in Oromocto, he loved sports.
Photos from his earliest years show the sports fanatic brandishing hockey sticks and sporting baseball medals.
That changed after he was diagnosed with Duchenne muscular dystrophy when he was four.
The genetic disorder severely weakens muscles, usually in boys, and most commonly starts to manifest itself at age four.
By the time he started school, he needed a wheelchair to get around. At 16, he was put on a ventilator. His lungs were no longer able to work on their own.
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke the average life expectancy of someone diagnosed with Duchenne muscular dystrophy is 26.
John Wood is 42.
“When I was 17, I had a choice to make,” said Wood, who still lives in Oromocto. “I could go off the ventilator and pass away. I chose to live.
“There was still a lot of stuff I wanted to do, and many dreams I still had. I wasn’t ready to call it quits just yet.”
And a good thing, too, because a lot of people have needed John Wood.
One of Wood’s dreams was to help others fighting the same condition.
For years, he worked to raise thousands of dollars to fight muscular dystrophy. But in 2012 he changed his approach.
“I used to raise a lot of money for muscular dystrophy, and the money didn’t always stay in the province,” he said. “I wanted to do something that the money would stay here and help people in New Brunswick.”
That year he started the John Wood Foundation. As of October, it had raised enough money to help buy nearly $2.5 million worth of medical equipment and services for those in need of medical assistance, whether because of muscular dystrophy or some other condition.
But Wood is not only fundraising, he’s also inspiring others.
A few weeks ago, Derrick May had never heard of John Wood. Now he’s trying to walk about 23 kilometres a day for a total of 805 km, or 500 miles, this summer to raise money for John’s foundation.
He started without ever meeting John. He was inspired to hit the road after coming across a video of John on social media.
“I didn’t even talk to John before I did it,” said May, who lives in the community of Summerville on the Kingston Peninsula.
]May recently retired after the 15 years in the Canadian military. Four months ago, he moved back to his home province of New Brunswick from Winnipeg. He said he wasn’t in the best place mentally before he learned about Wood.
“Like most veterans, after they get out, they lose their identity,” May said. “When I saw that video of John, it gave me purpose, like, I can do something for this guy.
“That was the match that lit the fire.”
May has walked 322 kilometres since June 26 and raised a total of $1,405.
“I wasn’t sure if it was real or not,” Wood said. “It’s just amazing.”
The two now text each other words of encouragement every day.
No slowing down
According to Randy Dickinson, a disability rights advocate and vice-president of the foundation, getting people like May fired up to help is Wood’s secret to being able to help so many people.
“How can you say ‘no’ when John says ‘I need some help to get this done,'” said Dickinson.
Wheelchairs, electric wheelchair batteries, ramps, vehicles and service dogs are just some of the items John has been able to help purchase over the last 10 years, all through the help of volunteers.
Since John started fundraising, Dickinson said, he’s been able to get different companies and government grants to match their donations, so that every dollar raised is leveraged into more than five.
“He’s very persuasive and he’s such a role model for others living with serious physical disabilities and other types of disabilities,” Dickinson said.
He lists several achievements Wood has earned for his help, including the New Brunswick Human Rights Award, the Oromocto Sports Hall of Fame, and the Fredericton Community Foundation’s philanthropy award in 2016.
But Dickinson said the biggest achievement has been helping the 272 individuals and their families who have needed help since the foundation opened in 2012.
“No matter what your situation is, you can do more than just survive, you can make a difference, and John does, every day,” said Dickinson.