After 15 minutes on the phone talking to Garth Riess — the former owner and operator of Bestsellers CD and book store in Whistler and the Local's Livingroom in Pemberton — you get the sense that anything is possible.
Pique caught up to Riess on an island in a volcanic crater lake in Guatemala several weeks, over 8,000 kilometres into a journey that started in Pemberton and will eventually take him to the southern tip of Argentina — and then back to British Columbia because, hey, why not.
What's truly amazing about Riess's journey, aside from the mileage, is that it almost never happened. He became seriously ill in November 2006 with Guillain-Barré Syndrome, a disease that affects the nervous system and results in a weakening of limbs to the point of paralysis.
Riess ran the Bestsellers CD and bookstore in Whistler for almost 10 years before rising rents forced him out of business in 2002. He then opened and operated the Local's Livingroom in Pemberton for several years before he became ill and was forced to close up shop. He was also a triathlete, played old-timers hockey and was a familiar face at events in both Whistler and Pemberton.
"I was very sick for three years," he said. "I was going blind. My liver was failing. My kidneys were failing. I was sick and it was terrible. When it got to the point when my heart rate dropped from a resting rate of 135 beats per minute, I asked the doctor, 'what can I do?' The doctor said that they don't have any idea for this disease, it seems to be different for everybody, so I decided to follow my own path to wellness. I was a triathlete, so I started training for a triathlon."
His limbs stiff and unresponsive, the pain sometimes unbearable, one of Riess's early training days consisted of walking 50 feet. A little later he could swim one length of the pool and bike a kilometre. Slowly he started to build on that, relocating to Victoria for a few years so he could exercise year-round.
He always ate well, he said, but he adopted an even more healthy diet and tried to stay positive.
Now, his goal is to tell his story to draw awareness to Guillain-Barre Syndrome and to inspire those unlucky enough to be diagnosed with it to fight back. He'd also like to raise money to create a diagnostic test for the disease, which he says can be battled more successfully with early diagnosis — it took almost six months to be diagnosed in his case, and in some cases it can take longer than that. "You can't cure something you can't even diagnose, so I'm very passionate about this.