McDonald, who hails from Glouchester, England, is running across Canada — averaging about a marathon a day — with the hopes of raising $40,000 for Toronto's Sick Kids hospital and another 60,000 pounds for Great Ormond Street Hospital and the Pied Piper Appeal in the U.K.
Unlike others who have attempted the feat, McDonald is running without a support crew, depending instead on help from strangers along the way.
He also films and edits short videos about his adventures on the road.
McDonald started his run in St. John's, Nfld. in March, and hopes to reach Vancouver, B.C. by the middle of December, when his Canadian visa runs out.
The 26-year-old has a good reason for his drive to raise funds for children's hospitals. For the first nine years of his life, he had a rare spinal condition called syringomyelia.
“Things happened when I was younger like I'd wake up in the middle of the night and I wouldn't be able to move my legs,” McDonald said. “I had immune deficiency. I had a year off school. So I was just very, very sick.”
But then he learned his symptoms magically disappeared as long as he remained physically active. “I haven't stopped moving ever since,” McDonald said.
Passing through Sudbury this past weekend after about six months on the road, McDonald gave a presentation about his travels to a group of about 50 people at the South End Library Aug. 10.
The presentation was organized by Sudbury's Barb McDougall-Murdoch, who only recently learned about McDonald through media coverage in southern Ontario. Once she saw what he was trying to do, she decided to help him out.
“Having watched his videos, I just had a sense of what Jamie's character was like, but meeting him in real life is something else,” McDougall-Murdoch said. “I could probably say this changed my life forever.”
One of those who showed up for the presentation was Leslie VanWallengham, whose daughter Kameryn was recently treated for leukemia at Toronto's Sick Kids hospital.
She said her whole family watched McDonald's videos, and had “fallen in love” with his story. “He's just a dynamic person,” she said. “He captures your heart.”
McDonald's journey hasn't come without a few mishaps.
He ran the first 200 kilometres of the route while carrying a 30-kilogram backpack, but that led him to be sidelined with a foot injury.
Fortunately, a couple from Newfoundland took him in and cared for him for three weeks until he recovered. After that, he began pushing his gear in a buggy instead.
McDonald said people along the way have been amazing, often inviting him into their homes for a meal or even to sleep overnight.
In fact, he jokes that in Newfoundland, the ladies there were so intent on feeding him that he starting gaining weight despite the fact that he was running a marathon every day.
But McDonald said the hospitality he received in Sudbury is “right up there.”
Several runners accompanied him into the city, he was put up in a hotel, and the people who came out to listen to him speak at the library were “really, really amazing,” he said.
When McDonald encounters difficult times on his journey, he said he thinks about Terry Fox, who is one of his personal heroes.
In 1980, Fox — who had lost one of his legs to cancer three years earlier — attempted to run across the country on a prosthetic leg to raise money and awareness for cancer research.
The spread of his cancer eventually forced him to end his quest, and ultimately cost him his life.
McDonald is no stranger to long-distance adventures. Last year, he cycled from Bangkok, Thailand back to England — a distance of 24,000 kilometres — to raise funds for a children's hospital close to where he lives.
Once he got back, he broke the world record for stationary cycling, pedalling the device for 12 days. Through these two ventures, he raised about $35,000.
When news reporters interviewed him about a week after he broke the world record, McDonald knew they were going to ask him what he was planning to do next.
Having already received a Canadian visa because he wanted to work and travel in the country, he decided to run across Canada, despite having no experience with running.
McDonald said Canada hasn't just met his expectations, it's exceeded them.
“In England, everyone was saying to me, 'Oh, those Canadians are really, really nice,'” he said. “I heard it all my life, but to be out here and meet those people, yeah, it is true.”
Those who wish to contribute to McDonald's fundraising efforts are asked to visit his website, www.jamiemcdonald.org, like his Facebook page, www.facebook.com/jamiemcdonald.org, or follow him on Twitter at @MrJamieMcDonald.