The story behind Matt Hill’s world-changing 11,000 mile run

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Matt Hill and His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada. Photo credit: Sgt Johanie Maheu, Rideau Hall, OSGG

“I play the blue truck. His name is Ton-ton.”

That’s hardly the first thing you’d think a man who had recently been awarded the Meritorious Service Medal (Civil Division) by the Governor General, on behalf of Her Majesty The Queen and all Canadians, would say. But then again, this man is the remarkable Matt Hill. He’s not your average guy.

Besides improving our world one step at a time and having May 8th — the day he returned home from a year-long, 11,000 mile run across Canada and around the perimeter of the United States — designated as “Run for One Planet Day” in Vancouver, Matt is absolutely adored for his long career of portraying some of the most iconic characters in the history of cartoons. His extensive list of credits includes the aforementioned Ton-ton from “Dinotrux,” as well as Raphael from “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” Ed from “Ed, Edd & Eddy, Tender Heart from “Care Bears,” and dozens more.

“I was walking to the studio to do a show called ‘Kate & Mim Mim,’ which is on Disney Junior in the states, when I got the call from the Governor General’s office,” Matt told Entertaining Options. “I was thinking, maybe the kids or the grandkids wanted an autograph from Ed or Raphael?”

However, that wasn’t the reason for the call. After discovering he was being awarded The Meritorious Service Medal, he started “bawling like a ten-year-old bursting with pride.” The award came out of nowhere and it caught him off guard in a very good way.

But exactly how does one transition from voicing beloved characters to changing the world?

“When I got what I call ‘The big download from above,’ I was literally 28,000 feet in the air on a plane on a flight to an animation convention in Detroit. That was the fall of 2006. At that point, I’d been an actor for nearly 20 years and I was loving my life, so grateful for getting to do what I do. But I was also starting to ask myself that bigger question, ‘How can I give back?'”

Matt has been running since that fateful day as a young child when he slipped out of the front door of his house and took off, giving his poor mother such a startle.

“They called me the original Forrest Gump,” he laughed. “I was running everywhere, so running has always been a big part of my life.”

By the time his plane landed, Matt had an idea. He was going to make an 11,000 mile run across Canada and around the perimeter of the United States to inspire environmental action.

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Stephanie Tait and Matt Hill

“When I realized, ‘Okay, I’m really going to run around the continent,’ the very next thing I decided was, ‘I want my friend, Steph [Stephanie Tait], to do it with me.’ But I had to face all those dark parts that didn’t believe in me first, ‘Who do you think you are? You’re just some actor, you can’t do this.’ It took me three weeks to build up the courage to share it with her.”

Luckily, even though Stephanie thought Matt was just a little bit crazy, she was more than eager to sign on. Suddenly, the dream of one became the dream of two. And the training began.

“We figure that we probably invested about 10,000 hours over two years to get ready to go on the road,” Matt informed. “In the beginning, Steph couldn’t run more than about 6 miles at a time, so that’s where we started. Our bodies began to adapt and within those first three months, we had built up to about 100 miles a week.”

The goal was to run a marathon every day for an entire year. What made that possible was leapfrogging in 10K segments. Typically, Matt would start the day off with a 10K run while Stephanie was in the RV with a crew member who was driving and the dozens of other duties they all had to do between run segment. All coordinating with their home team. At the end of his run, the pair would switch positions and Stephanie would run and their crew member would ride with her for safety – while Matt pulled the RV ahead 10k. The two would take turns running until they had each completed 42.2K every single day.

As you might imagine, such a massive undertaking didn’t occur without incident. There were safety concerns when running through the highly congested areas in the northeastern region of the United States, hurricane force winds hit the pair as they were running across a six mile bridge crossing over a bayou down south, and their RV — which constantly broke down — actually caught fire not once, but twice.

“Obviously, the mission was always to return home alive,” Matt joked, “but there were a couple of times when we got wiped off the road and we had to bail into a ditch while running. I’m not going to lie, it pressed us — it pressed us every which way from Sunday. But we were doing 240 school presentations, so we knew there was always another group of kids that was waiting for us. That is why ‘small steps’ became our motto, it was the only thing we could do when everything got so crazy — you literally take a breath and take the next step. If the RV is on fire, okay it’s on fire, just take the next step and keep going.”

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Matt Hill with the kids from Public Charter School of Washington, D.C.

It took Matt and Stephanie 369 days to run around the continent. When he left, he was adamant that he wasn’t going to allow what he did for work to enter into the presentations he was doing at schools. But at some point in the journey, that changed.

“It was out of desperation,” he recalled. “One day, we were at a middle school and it wasn’t going so well. The kids thought we were cool, but we were really losing them. So, out of desperation, Steph said, ‘Hey, did you guys know that I get to run with a Ninja Turtle every day?’ My first thought was, ‘Oh boy, I guess I have to bring it in now,’ so I said [in Raphael’s voice], ‘Yo, yo, yo, middle school! Who wants to save the planet with Raph and Steph?!’ Immediately, we had 1500 kids eating out of our hands. That was the magic connector that I hadn’t allowed myself to use because I didn’t want it to be inauthentic. But after that moment, I realized that was probably the most authentic way that I could share my message with these kids because they already knew these characters, so there already was a connection.”

And it wasn’t just the kids who were reacting to the voices. Matt talked about a school outside of Houston, Texas where the main objective was simply to keep the kids off the streets and get them to finish 12th grade. It was run like a military school and the kids all looked to the school’s principal for a cue on how to respond. And nobody was responding… until Matt brought out Raphael to break the ice.

“The principal came up to me afterwards and shook my hand. He said, ‘You have no idea how much Raphael and the Ninja Turtles helped me get through a really rough childhood. They helped me to believe in myself — instead of feeling like an outsider, I felt like I belonged.’ I have hundreds of stories like that! People just sharing their humanity with me, people who were inspired by cartoons!”

To date, Matt’s message has reached over 100,000 kids. He set in motion an idea that is changing the world. Do something, make a difference, no matter how small it might seem, because those little steps add up to big changes.

“At schools, we talked about the hero inside of everyone and that they didn’t have to wait to be a grown-up to make a difference. That’s the beauty of youth, I really believe that kids are that catalyst for change. I passionately believe the power of the human spirit can make a global difference. I know, till the good Lord takes me home, I’m going to keep running and speaking this message to the youth of the world. On the tour, our goal was one million actions for the planet, but I know we can do more.”

To help Matt change the world, visit runforoneplanet.org and find out what you can do.

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