A harrowing walk to help out a promising young athlete from Labrador has come to a close.
Sebastian Benuen, his grandson Aries, and a crowd of supporters reached their hometown of Sheshatshiu on Tuesday evening, bringing an end to a 330-kilometre trek along the Trans-Labrador Highway from Churchill Falls.
They set out with the goal of raising $50,000 for 14-year-old Aries to continue his hockey dream at a private school in Ontario. When they reached home, they’d smashed the goal and raised close to $75,000.
“I didn’t think I was going to make it here,” Sebastian told CBC’s Labrador Morning on Wednesday from his home in Sheshatshiu. “I thought I’d have to take another night between here and Happy Valley-Goose Bay but that didn’t happen. There was a lot of people supporting me.”
Sebastian is a small business owner who has been out of work since the COVID-19 pandemic struck Newfoundland and Labrador in March. He wasn’t going to let that deter him from paying his grandson’s tuition and expenses.
Aries is an athletic standout in the Innu community. He spent last hockey season at the Canadian International Hockey Academy in Rockland, Ont., and will be returning there again this season.
His grandparents took him in when he was a baby and have made sacrifice after sacrifice to help him reach his goals. The family moved to Happy Valley-Goose Bay so Aries could play hockey in a better program.
Sebastian took it a step further the next year and moved to Quebec so Aries could play AAA hockey in that province before he was accepted to the Ontario school.
The Benuens and their supporters — many of them former teammates of Aries — made it to Happy Valley-Goose Bay on Monday. On Tuesday, they were joined by a girls’ hockey team from Sheshatshiu for the final leg of the journey.
Sebastian was treated for a knee injury on the back end of the walk, but was determined to make it to the finish line.
He had difficulty expressing his emotions on Wednesday morning, moved by how far past the fundraising goal they made it.
“I’m overwhelmed,” he said. “It’s very, very hard to explain what I feel here this morning.”
Sebastian, an avid runner, said he plans to take a week off his training before running again.
His mission earned the approval of the Innu Nation in Labrador.
“The Innu Nation is very proud of them all and their efforts as a family to support one another,” it wrote on Twitter.
“Aries’ grandmother and grandfather took him in when he was little more than a year old. This is family, this is love. The long walk is over, they are home.”