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Racing against Alzheimer’s disease: Stephanie Fauquier’s 10 triathlons in 10 provinces

Toronto athlete finishes fundraising triathlon effort this weekend

When Stephanie Fauquier thinks of her mom, Dr. Robin McLeod, a lot comes to mind. Simple things, like memories of homemade Halloween costumes every year as a child, and bigger ones, such as her mother’s role as a leading surgical expert, both in Canada and internationally. Fauquier says “persistence, stamina and commitment” also spring to mind when thinking of her mother—all of which, she says, are qualities required in triathlon.

It’s because of these shared values between her mother and triathletes everywhere that Fauquier decided to undertake a triathlon-specific challenge after her mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. The project is called “Race with Steph,” and it will see Fauquier complete 10 triathlons in the 10 Canadian provinces this summer, all with the goals of both celebrating her mother and raising money for Alzheimer’s research.

A massive impact

Dr. McLeod has had an amazing career that has included teaching at the University of Toronto, roles with the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada and the American College of Surgeons, team-leads on clinical trials and countless words in highly respected medical journals. She has also been appointed to the Order of Canada, an honour she received in 2019 for her influence on the country’s medical and surgical education and practices.

“My mom is the most amazing parent, role model, everything,” Fauquier says. “She excelled in her professional career and achieved unbelievable things, but then equally she was such a great mother to me and my sister.”

Fauquier says her mother somehow managed to juggle her career and family lives perfectly, never stumbling throughout

Fauquier’s childhood years.

Through her unwavering presence in her daughters’ lives, Dr. McLeod instilled her many values in them, which Fauquier says still drive her today.

“She gave me this grittiness and the desire to pursue big goals and dreams,” she says. “I couldn’t imagine not doing something like [Race with Steph], because my mom has had such an impact on me.”


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Race with Steph

Fauquier officially kicked off her Race with Steph campaign in late May at Ironman 70.3 Victoria.

“It was an awesome race,” she says, noting that this was the first half-distance race of her career. “I think I’m hooked on 70.3s now.”

Fauquier crossed the finish line in 6:45:01, and, while she was happy with her overall time, she was not thrilled with her 2:32 half-marathon.

“I was thinking on the run that I wanted to be a bit faster,” she says.

To her disappointment, she wasn’t able to pick up the pace all that much, but when she returned home to Toronto, she found out why the run was harder than she had expected it to be.

“I actually broke my toe during the race,” she says with a laugh. “I was running out of the water and stubbed my big toe on a root and fractured it.”

Fauquier thought nothing of this at the time, dismissing it as a minor hiccup on her way into T1. In transition, she noticed that the toe was bleeding and she figured she had chipped a toenail. She slapped a bandaid on it and carried on with her race.

Whether it was adrenaline or a classic triathlete-branded stubbornness to pain (or a combination of the two), Fauquier made it through the race without a worry about her toe. It wasn’t until she got an x-ray in Toronto that she found out the toe was broken.

This threw a wrench in her Race with Steph schedule, as she had planned to race the Hampton Ladies Triathlon in New Brunswick on June 11. She had to substitute the Cambridge Narrows Triathlon in August to ensure she still made her 10-race in 10 province goal.

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Fauquier stuck to sprint- and Olympic-distance races throughout the summer, all building to her final stage in Niagara Falls at the half-distance Barrelman Triathlon this weekend.

Fauquier began her Race with Steph journey with the hope of raising $250,000 for Alzheimer’s disease research. Before she had even arrived at the start line in Victoria, her fundraiser had amazingly already surpassed the $200,000 mark.

“The outpouring of support that we’ve received has been amazing,” she says.

All of the money raised by Fauquier’s challenge will be donated to the University of Toronto’s Tanz Centre for Research in Neurodegenerative Diseases. She says picking the Tanz Centre was an easy call, not only because of its tremendous reputation as leaders in diagnostic research in neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, but also because of her mother’s connection to the school.

“My mom has been a longtime faculty member at U of T,” Fauquier says. “She’s put U of T surgery on the map and made it what it is today. The Tanz Centre just felt like the right place to donate to.”


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Supporting caregivers

While the project’s focus is to raise funds and awareness for Alzheimer’s disease, Fauquier also notes the importance of supporting caregivers.

“I don’t think we talk enough about caregivers when it comes to Alzheimer’s,” she says, thinking of her father, John.

“He’s losing his life partner, and the life that he thought he was going to have is changing so quickly.”

Fauquier’s father will be travelling to every one of her races this summer, both to support his daughter and his wife. Fauquier’s partner, Luke, will also join the support crew at some of her races, and Dr. McLeod will also attend multiple events throughout the summer.

“My mom came with us to B.C. for my first race, which was awesome,” she says.

With one race still to go in her journey, Fauquier’s efforts have raised over $300,000.

“The call to action for me is firstly, if you’re able to, please donate,” Fauquier says. “Second, follow along and share this news as widely as possible. Third is to spread love and support for everyone impacted by Alzheimer’s disease.”

To learn more about Fauquier’s challenge and to donate to the Race with Steph campaign, visit www.racewithsteph.com.

This story originally appeared in our July issue of Triathlon Magazine.