It was around 4 a.m. on Easter Sunday, and Oh Good Lord, Daniel Ehman still had another seven hours to go in “Easy Ehm’s (Socially Distant) 24-hour walk-a-thon.”
He’d set out on this fundraiser-cum-bar bet some 15 hours earlier, making endless circuits of his tiny West End Toronto apartment fuelled by a combination of Clif Crunchy Peanut Butter energy bars, granola, apples, water and baby carrots.
He’d already flirted with the idea of calling time on the whole damned thing around midnight. That was when he’d puked—the inevitable result of walking in circles while staring at his phone and chatting with the dozens of supporters following his progress via Zoom and Instagram Live.
A lightning fast shower—and yes, he kept walking back and forth in the tub—led to the discovery of a previously untapped reservoir of intestinal fortitude that lay beyond his aching feet and upset stomach.
But that was four hours and thousands of steps ago. Talking with his uncle on the west coast helped take his mind off things, but he’d signed off; Ehman was momentarily alone with his thoughts and literally miles to go before he slept.
A video time-stamped 4:39 a.m. shows Ehman, who by day is an account director at Toronto sports sponsorship firm MKTG, hollow-eyed and shuffling around his apartment. There’s a TV turned extraordinarily loud in the background, an unseen talking head going on about being homebound during the great COVID pandemic of 2020.
As each 75-step circuit of the apartment took Ehman past his couch and his oh-so-soft bed, he began to wonder how much longer he could keep this up.
“I actually didn’t think I could finish it,” he says, admitting that he’d already started mentally composing a letter apologizing to all of his friends and family who were cheering him on for giving up before crossing the finish line.
But reinforcement came from a close friend, who reached out sometime around 4:45 a.m. and urged him to keep going. “Then the birds started chirping and I felt like I couldn’t stop,” he says. “It was so painful, but there was no doubt in my mind I was going to make it through.”
At 6:08 a.m. he sent a text to a friend: “We’re going strong.” He finally wrapped the walk at 11 a.m. on Sunday, having walked the equivalent of 60 kilometres. He’d also raised nearly $5,000 for Fred Victor, a Toronto charity dedicated to fighting homelessness.
It all began about 12 years ago over drinks (of course) when Ehman was talking with his close friend Ben Russell in a Dartmouth, N.S. pub. Russell, who was a sprint canoeist of some renown, was attempting to qualify for the Olympics.
Ehman casually asked Russell if he thought he would be able to canoe for 24 hours straight. Not a chance, Russell responded. “I bet I could walk for 24 hours straight,” said Ehman brashly.
It‘s worth noting here that Ehman has never been one to shy away from a challenge—a character trait that has led to everything from him attempting to eat 10 pounds of mussels to an entire ice cream cake in a single sitting. He failed at both.
While walking for 24 hours straight would require more than a strong stomach, a combination of pride and goading by his friends meant that Ehman was committed. He created a Facebook group dedicated to the endeavour, only to keep pushing back the deadline for completion. First it was July 27, 2008, then it was Sept. 15, 2010.
Meanwhile, friends were divided on whether or not he would ever see it through. “I can’t wait to see you crumble after the first two hours,” said one Facebook post. “I completely believe this man can do it… he won’t tap out, ever,” said another. “I have given up on you,” said one more.
Then silence. The Facebook page sat dormant from November 2009 until April 9 of this year, when Ehman posted a message that began simply “It’s back…” and outlined the terms of that original barroom bet: 24 hours straight of walking, with a two-minute allotment each hour to use the washroom, which could be banked and carry over.
In a brutal moment of self-flagellation, Ehman candidly admitted that he had failed to even muster an attempt on the challenge. “This has dogged me ever since and made me feel like I was a failure,” he wrote. “That stops now. The times are tough and the world needs hope.”
The next day he announced that the initiative would be a fundraiser for Fred Victor, and that he would be selling a $35 shirt from his own clothing line, Siglo, to raise funds. The stay-at-home imperative added a wrinkle of course, requiring Ehman to complete the task inside his apartment.
Less than four hours after collapsing on his couch, Ehman was beatific and more than a little achy. “This was one of the best experiences of my life,” he wrote on Facebook at 2:42 p.m., “and I wouldn’t have even started it without you all.”
There are some who would argue it’s silly to be celebrating the successful completion of a frivolous barroom bet in these uncertain times. And they might be right. But then again, they haven’t walked more than 80,000 steps in Daniel Ehman’s shoes.