Ryan Thirlwall is not a ballet dancer, but he sported a pink tutu, pink spandex leggings and a pink hoodie this week to send a message about bullying.
In his custom-made tutu, the 24-year-old planned to walk 126 kilometres from Nanaimo to the Boys & Girls Club in Victoria over Monday and Tuesday, for his Tutu Walk for Hope.
“It’s such a serious subject,” Thirlwall said. “The whole walk is a symbol of what I know some youth are going through. No one wakes up wanting to walk from Nanaimo to Victoria, but no one wakes up wanting to be bullied.”
Money raised from his highway stroll will go toward an anti-bullying program at the Boys & Girls Club. His goal is to raise $5,000. Red Barn Market, his employer and his former high school, Pacific Secondary school in Colwood, and other local businesses are supporting his cause.
Monday’s windstorm didn’t call a halt to the walk. With friends following in a car, he struck out from Woodgrove mall in Nanaimo as planned.
“I wish it was snowing, I wish it was thundering and lightning, because that would get the point across of how important this is,” Thirlwall said on his cellphone. “I am determined to finish this walk with sweat, blood and tears.
“I want these kids to know that the community does care, local businesses do care and strangers do care. Everyone has the right to be individuals and not to be bullied for their sexuality, their race, age, gender or weight.”
While he lives in Saanich now, Thirlwall spent formative teen years on West Shore living in foster care and in the Boys & Girls Club Turnabout program house in Langford. The Boys & Girls Club helped him through tough years.
His plan was to walk through the night over the Malahat and through the West Shore early Tuesday morning.
Walking along the Trans-Canada Highway is dangerous enough, but hiking over the Malahat Drive, likely in the dark with a narrow road shoulder, is downright deadly. Fortunately, a volunteer driver from Westshore Towing will follow him across that stretch of highway into Langford.
“There is always a risk, whether it’s fatigue, hydration, weather,” Thirlwall said.
While he admits he hasn’t been harshly bullied in his youth, “I have faced humility for how I dress and my appearance.”
With a two-year-old daughter, Thirlwall wants her to grow up in a world without bullying.
“This walk is for the underdog and to bring awareness,” Thirlwall said. “How many more kids need to take their own lives because they are bullied?”
Donations for Thirlwall’s Tutu Walk for Hope can be given directly to the Boys & Girls Club by calling 250-384-9133 or online at bcgvic.org. Specify the donation is for the Tutu Walk for Hope.