Ottawa's Alex Dorward fights pandemic blahs, raises funds by physically challenging himself to the max

Entrepreneur to attempt marathon, three-day fasting, hour-long rope skipping, four-hour water submersion and, oh, he's just getting started
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Alex Dorward, , COO and co-owner of Simple Story, has launched a new initiative, called 12beCAUSE, to complete 12 feats for 12 local, national and global charities over the next year. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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With each new year often comes new personal goals to be more physically active, whether it’s running long distances, tackling a triathlon or even just walking, jumping and moving more.

On New Year’s Eve, Ottawa entrepreneur Alex Dorward, 31, announced to the world his ambitious plans to complete one physically challenging feat each month, for 12 months, while raising money for local, national and global charities. It's called 12beCAUSE.

They say resolutions are made to be broken but Dorward is committed to seeing his daunting dares to the very end.

“In my mind, if I’m going to do something, I’m going to do it,” Dorward said in an interview. “I’m not going to think, ‘OK, yeah, I’ll plan to do this.’ Nah-nah-nah, I just got to do it.”

Dorward is the chief operating officer and co-owner of Simple Story, an Ottawa-based video marketing agency. He co-founded and was co-CEO of AdmissionsConsulting.ca, a leading undergraduate admissions consulting firm, as well as CampusRankings – both of which were acquired. In 2019, he was the youngest recipient of a Forty Under 40 business award.

As well, he's coached high school basketball and has been a mentor and guest lecturer for university business students. As a child, he spent weeks at a time visiting remote parts of the world with his mother, a telecom consultant.

“There’s no better education than travel,” he opined. “I think it provides an additional layer of understanding and perspective.”

Dorward plans to spend the next year completing a full marathon and Olympic triathlon, three-day fast, one-hour rope skipping, paddling and portaging a historic river route, sleeping outdoors for two winter nights, and submerging himself underwater for hours, to list but a handful of examples.

His top concern: getting injured. 

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Ottawa entrepreneur Alex Dorward plans to complete 12 exhausting challenges, including one continuous hour of rope skipping, to raise money for 12 charities over the next year. Photo by Caroline Phillips

First up for Dorward is a 50-kilometre walk on March 1 in support of the Breast Cancer Society of Canada. He’ll be walking along the Ottawa River, from the west corner of Ottawa to the east, passing by such landmarks as Parliament Hill, 24 Sussex and Rideau Hall. 

Dorward predicts it will take up to 10 hours to complete the feat. Throughout the day, he will be live streaming and recording video to document the experience and to raise awareness for breast cancer.

While his challenges are currently all very physical, Dorward said it’s his mental health that stands to benefit the most through exercise and goal setting.

“I’ve been kind of dreading how I’m going to stay mentally sane through the winter,” Dorward explained.

The coronavirus pandemic has been a catalyst for 12beCAUSE by motivating him to be more active and more charitable. 

“I’ve been overwhelmingly pretty privileged and lucky,” said the graduate of South Carleton High School and St. Francis Xavier University. “There have been some setbacks and challenges but, overall, I haven’t faced too much adversity. For that reason, I do want to help out and give back.” 

Dorward said the past 10 months of the pandemic have been “challenging” on his physical and mental health and on his productivity.

“The problem with working from home is that you can procrastinate a lot more easily. With the pandemic, I have found myself starting to go down a spiral of laziness and not achieving what I want to achieve.

“This is a good excuse for me to actually do something.”

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Dorward said he selected charities that make the biggest impact on the most amount of people and that do so in a cost-effective way. He’s created a website that allows the public and businesses to donate to any of the charities at any time during the 12-month fundraiser. 

He’s hoping to raise at least $30,000 in total.

Dorward has created a corporate sponsorship package and has so far recruited GS5, Admissions Ally and Performance Sports Therapy. His company, Simple Story, is also a sponsor.

"The support of business is crucial in helping me to meet my goal," he noted.

His inspiration: British comic Eddie Izzard, who ran 29 marathons in 29 days, while raising money for charity. Dorward decided to space out his challenges, with the goal of raising funds over a greater period of time and giving his body a chance to recuperate. 

“The idea was kind of a collection or union of various ideas I had and, ultimately, I just woke up one day and said, ‘Okay, this is what I’m going to do.’ ”

Alex Dorward's list of 12 charities and feats

  • 50 km walk for the Breast Cancer Society of Canada.

  • Traditional long-distance paddle and portage in support of Minwaashin Lodge, an Ottawa  support centre for Indigenous women and children who are survivors of domestic violence.
  • One hour of continuous jump rope skipping as part of Jump Rope for the Heart & Stroke Foundation. This one is guaranteed to make his arms feel like noodles.
  • Remain continuously underwater for four hours in support of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and its protection of our oceans. Dorward is a certified master diver, so he will be using equipment, not holding his breath.
  • An Olympic Triathlon for War Child (1.5km swim, 40km bike, 10km run). He completed his first one in 2018, also in support of the Canadian-based global humanitarian organization.
  • Run a marathon for Terry Fox Foundation as part of the Terry Fox Run. He’s already got one of these under his belt, but it was 12 years ago and he suffered severe heatstroke.
  • Sleeping outside for two nights in support of the Youth Services Bureau’s SleepOut.
  • A 72-hour famine in support of Action Against Hunger. 
  • Dorward is also raising money for CHEO Foundation, Movember Foundation and CKNW Kids’ Fund but has yet to nail down his gruelling task. As well, he’s left the month of April open for the public to choose the charity and the feat for that month.

Dorward has tricks for passing the time, so as not to get bored or discouraged while he’s training or participating in the challenges. It involves splitting his larger goal into a series of easier goals.

“It becomes a mental game,” said Dorward of his system. “I try to put everything into smaller bite sizes and, eventually, the distances are going to start accumulating. You can’t look at it as, ‘I’ve done one hour, I’ve got three more to go’. You have to break that down into something that sounds better; you’ve got to convince yourself that you’re further along than you are.

“I occupy my time trying to figure out smaller fractions. I might be three-quarters of one-eighths done a race.”

Said Dorward of his overall goal: “I really do want to feel like this was an accomplishment, a worthwhile endeavour. I also hope that it will inspire others to have some unique experience that they’re doing every month, whether or not it’s for charity.”

– caroline@obj.ca