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Marsh: 'I really believe we have made a difference'

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Since departing Vancouver on April 25, former Senators defenceman Brad Marsh has cycled more than 5,000 kilometres to help raise awareness for the Boys and Girls Club. His 90 Day Challenge has stopped in his adopted hometown of Ottawa for a few days before resuming its journey through Quebec and the Atlantic provinces (Ottawa Senators Hockey Club).

His voice cracking with emotion, Brad Marsh needed few words to sum up the warmest feeling yet on an odyssey that has been filled with so many of them.

"It truly does feel like I am home," the former Ottawa Senators defenceman said earlier today as his latest 90 Day Challenge — a cycling trek across Canada — reached Scotiabank Place, his last stop of many during a 15-year National Hockey League career. "It is emotional when you see people come out and support you and get behind what you’re doing."

And his adopted hometown did exactly that today, rolling out the proverbial red carpet for the 54-year-old native of London, Ont. Senators staff cheered and displayed signs as Marsh rode onto the floor of Scotiabank Place with son Erik — who's been with him the entire way — and daughter Madeline. Deputy mayor Steve Desroches read a proclamation declaring it 'Brad Marsh Day' in the nation's capital. Senators president Cyril Leeder presented him with a red cycling jersey with a team logo.

As well, both the Sens Foundation and the Bell Capital Cup made $5,000 donations to the Ottawa Boys and Girls Club — the charity that is Marsh's inspiration for a journey that has already covered more than 5,000 kilometres, with Quebec and the Atlantic provinces still in front of them.

"We're proud of the affiliation our current players and alumni have made with the Boys and Girls Club," said Leeder in acknowledging Marsh's efforts. "But I don't think we've ever been prouder than we are today, of Brad and his family ... Thank you for your commitment in bringing a higher level of awareness to the Boys and Girls Club and everything else you've done and continue to do for our community in Ottawa."

As weary as he might get — Marsh has put in as many as 264 kilometres during a single day — the thought of what this is all about keeps the former NHL blueliner going. While he isn't sure about the dollar amount he's raised, he truly believes more people know about the Boys and Girls Club today than before this 90 Day Challenge began.

"When we first started, I wrote on our Facebook page 'Today, with the help of many, I hope to make a difference for many,'" said Marsh, the president of the Sens Alumni. "We're halfway through our journey and I really do believe we have made a difference for many people and many kids out there. What a wonderful trip it has been. There hasn't been one day where I did not want to get on my bike. I feel great ... to be honest, I feel stronger and I'm getting stronger. I love rolling into the towns and going into the Boys and Girls Clubs. It's just a great environment to be in that clubhouse playing with the kids.

"This bike ride is more than just Brad Marsh riding across Canada. It's Brad Marsh riding across Canada to raise awareness for the Boys and Girls Club. The word is getting out there and people, in the future, may choose to donate to the Boys and Girls Club. But more importantly, they may choose to get involved in a leadership or mentorship role."

The journey, as with so many things in the Marsh household, has also been about family. And when he reaches the end of it all in St. John's, N.L., in early July, he'll do so with wife Patty and his four children — Erik, Madeline, Patrick and Victoria — riding alongside him for the final kilometres through Newfoundland. Everyone in the Marsh clan has already taken part in at least some part of the trek.

"Whenever anybody in the Marsh family does something, almost the whole family (gets) involved," said Erik Marsh, who's been maintaining a blog about the adventure since its beginning on April 25. "When we had the restaurants, we had everybody working at the restaurants in every capacity you can imagine. That was a family business then and it continues on, so it's always a family affair, whatever we're doing. I wasn't surprised when they said 'do you want to come with us?' That wasn't a real shock, either. Everything kind of fits with what we strive to do and what we do as a family."

Brad Marsh's son, Erik, and daughter, Madeline, watch their father speak after the trio cycled into Scotiabank Place, the arena where Brad played for the expansion Senators in 1992-93 (Ottawa Senators Hockey Club).

And nobody in the Marsh household batted an eyelash when the patriarch of the family decided his eighth 90 Day Challenge would be a coast-to-coast cycling trek. In Erik's mind, it's just an extension of the mentality that allowed his father to play 1,086 games in the NHL with five different teams. Marsh was a member of the Senators' expansion squad in 1992-93 in what turned out to be his final season.

"The whole thing with the 90 Day Challenge is all about setting a goal and working toward it," said Erik Marsh. "That was something he did when he played (in the NHL).  Since he stopped, I think that happened on and off but in the last two years, it has been very clearly set out ... 90 days, let's attack this goal. With the last couple of 90 Day Challenges, it's been very health oriented, losing weight and getting in shape (Marsh lost nearly 50 pounds and says his weight and body fat level are the same now as in his last year of hockey).

"This (cycling ride) ties in with everything he does on a normal basis. It's the ultimate 90 Day Challenge. It does tie in a charity component and helping people. It does tie in being active. It ties in leadership and mentorship. It ties in all those things. So I wasn't as surprised as some people might have been if their dad came to them and said 'I'm going to ride my bike across Canada.' It means a lot to him."

So, too, does Ottawa, the city he now calls home. And Marsh plans to savour his time here before heading back out on the road Wednesday en route to Montreal.

"Throughout my career, I have lived in many, many places along with my wife, Patty (and our family)," said Marsh. "We've lost track of how many houses we've actually lived in and how many communities and cities that we've lived in. I can truly call Ottawa my home now."

Marsh, Erik and Madeline stopped briefly to take a photo beside a 'Welcome to Ottawa' sign that greeted them on their way into the capital. Much as they've enjoyed the reception they have received along the way, the old saying is true — there's no place like home.

"It's just good that we're coming home," said Erik Marsh, 26, who was granted an extended leave from his bartending job at the Cornerstone Bar and Grill in the Byward Market to join his father on this most remarkable of rides. "You talk to a lot of people along the way, but home is something you can't really replicate. It's tough to do.

"We've had the warmest of welcomes pretty much everywhere we've gone, either from friends, family or (total) strangers. They've just opened up their doors to us, whether it's feeding us or whatever it is ... everybody we've talked to has been so supportive, including my boss. It's a little taste of home, but it's not home, so I'm definitely looking forward to going home and putting my feet up on my own coffee table and leaving my clothes on the floor."

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