Run with Rob 2024: CMV activist to run across NB

Still of some of the participants for the event 'Run with Rob.' (Submitted: Tyson Jensen)

He has qualified for the Boston Marathon, the Triathlon World Championship and the Ironman World Championship. He has run three Ironman Triathlons, countless marathons, and last year, he ran the entire length of Manitoba in 12 days to raise awareness for congenital cytomegalovirus (CMV).

This year from May 4 to 16, Manitoba native Rob Tétrault will be traversing New Brunswick on foot in hopes of bringing universal CMV screening to the province.

“When I decided I was going to do this again, there was two factors. The first factor is I want a province that does not have universal screening where I’m going to be able to bring change,” he said. “The second piece is a medical community that I think is gonna gather around this thing and be receptive to it.”

The run will be an astounding 527 kilometres from the northwestern provincial border to the southeastern border. To run the entire province in 12 days, Tétrault will run 42 kilometres – a full marathon – every day. 

“I guess I have an addictive personality perhaps, I guess I like challenges,” he said.

Tétrault has been raising awareness for CMV for 16 years — since the day he found out his son had the condition in 2008.

CMV is a congenital infection that can cause a wide range of impairments, such as blindness, deafness and cognitive delays. The infection affects 1 in 200 babies and is the number one cause of infant disability, yet only four provinces have universal screening.

While he has been fighting for CMV awareness for over a decade, Tétrault has only been running for three years. Three years ago, the now marathon runner was overweight, but after discovering his father had cancer, he decided to turn his life around.

“I drank too much. I didn’t eat like I should and I didn’t take care of myself,” he said. “It was a catalyst for me to get up off my ass and do something with my life,”

At first it was simply going for walks with his mom, which turned into jogging, and then eventually turned into him running 506 kilometres across the province of Manitoba in 2023, which he said was “definitely outside [his] comfort zone.” 

The idea for the run came in 2022 after jogging by the Terry Fox statue in Ottawa, where Tétrault was attending the global CMV conference. 

“When I saw it, I realized ‘okay, I got to do something. It’s not enough, what I’m doing, so I’m going to do a stunt.’”

And his stunt was successful. His cause ended up garnering over 160 runners to run alongside him periodically over 12 days. This included his entire hockey team – none of whom had ever run a marathon – and his son, who was the reason for his running in the first place.

But the most impactful running companion joined him on day four of the provincial run: his 71 year-old father who had just finished chemotherapy.

“He was supposed to be dead,” he said. “So that was a crazy special day for me. Even though not much was said, but nothing needed to be said. He was an inspiration.”

After running with his father on day four, on day five, Tétrault found out that the universal CMV screening bill he was running for passed in the legislature. While his mom was bandaging his feet between runs, he was informed the bill passed, which completely turned his mindset around.

“I was a little worried that I wouldn’t be able to finish,” he said. “But then the last seven days were just no sweat, because I was like, ‘we had won.’”

Along with the bill passing, Tétrault’s run also raised over $250,000 for CMV and amassed one million views for his online CMV campaign. He received national and international media coverage.

After a year, Tétrault is excited to bring the run to N.B., his “all-time favourite province.” While his main goal is to live in a world without CMV, his goals for this year’s run are to raise $200,000, bring universal CMV screening to the province, and ultimately, have fun. 

“I’m so excited to run again, I’m jacked. I’m really, really pumped and I can’t even put into words how awesome it is to have been part of this movement for the last 15, 16 years.”