While James Swinimer from Dartmouth is battling not one, but two life-threatening diseases, he is determined not to allow his medical circumstances to defeat him.
In fact, the 54-year-old Swinimer, who has MS [multiple sclerosis] and leukemia, is making plans to go 110 kilometres on the Rum Runners Trail that stretches from Lunenburg to Halifax in one day on his mobility scooter.
While he admits this will be a difficult challenge, he also explains that when he did the run in 2016, it took two days to complete. But this time, he insists he will do it in one day, that date being July 21 (rain date July 22 or the following weekend, depending upon the weather).
Swinimer, who has family ties in the Martin’s River area of Lunenburg County, was raised in Dartmouth and describes himself as a person living a normal life with a wife, two children and a job as a construction worker when he first got ill.
“Everything was going just fine until I started having problems in the early 1990s,” he explains, pointing out that he was actually working as a clerk at a gas station and convenience store when the symptoms first emerged, but he pushed on and eventually got a job in construction, which he says he loved.
However, his health issues persisted and grew increasingly worse, having a serious impact on his life.
“My personality changed and I would lose my temper for no good reason,” he says. “Then, when I started losing the ability to recognize people, including my own children, I knew something was really wrong.”
By the year 2000, he just couldn’t go to work and doctors remained baffled as to what was wrong with him. However, in 2003, doctors finally diagnosed him with MS.
“While it was terrible news, in a way, it was also a relief because I finally knew what was wrong with me,” Swinimer explains. “It’s not easy to hear that you have such a terrible disease but, at least it was confirmation that something was wrong and it wasn’t all in my head.”
As the MS symptoms grew increasingly more severe and mobility became a challenge, Swinimer eventually ended up relying on a scooter to get around. After being largely confined to his house for several years, the scooter gave him a newfound freedom and he took advantage of that ability to get around, exploring most of Dartmouth from the battery-powered vehicle.
“Eventually, I became bored with that and in 2016, when I saw a commercial on television about the Trans-Canada Trail, I told my family I wanted to travel the trail, not all the way across Canada, but at least a portion of it,” he explains.
So it was in 2016 when he first travelled the Rum Runners Trail, part of the Trans-Canada Trail, from Halifax to Lunenburg on his scooter. This year, he plans to do the same trail, but in the opposite direction, going from Lunenburg to Halifax.
While he says he is doing the trip again because of the challenge, he’s also doing it to raise funds for MS and for leukemia research because in 2009, while he was having one of his regular checkups, his doctor discovered several lumps in his neck.
Following a series of tests that included a CAT-scan and biopsy, he was diagnosed with leukemia. While the original round of chemotherapy pushed the leukemia into remission for a period of time, eventually it returned and now Swinimer is currently undergoing a new course of treatment that includes oral chemo medications in which he takes three pills a day.
While his health issues do pose many challenges for him and his family, he says he tries hard not let the situation get the best of him and when his wife, Tracey, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011, he vowed that he would never give up fighting to get the most out of every day.
He says he’s thankful that despite their health challenges, he and his wife continue to support each other and she has been helping him make preparations for his upcoming journey.
If weather permits, Swinimer hopes to depart from the grounds of the Lunenburg Fire Department by 8 a.m. on July 21. Based on his previous trip, he estimates it will take him eight to 10 hours to reach Halifax.
“I’ve already done it one way so I know what to expect,” he explains, pointing out that this time, he will have four sets of charged batteries with him and he believes that will give him sufficient juice to complete the trip.
He isn’t worried about going over the trail on his scooter because he says with full suspension and shocks, it’s more than equipped to handle the job.
When he did the trip in 2016, he raised $600 for MS research. This time, he’s hoping to raise funds for both the MS society and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
For more information on Swinimer’s journey, check out Scooter Trekking for LLC and MS on Facebook.
To donate to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of Canada, go to: secure.e2rm.com/registrant/FundraisingPage.aspx?registrationID=4182740&langPref=en.CA.
For Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada, go to: mssoc.convio.net/site/TR?px=2386789&pg=personal&fr_id=6121.