One day in 1966, Clint Shaw had just come home from his job at Canada Packers in Vancouver, was eating his supper while watching the TV on top of the fridge, when a commercial came on showing a guy playing a tuba on top of a mountain.
The tuba played the first four notes of O Canada. Then a ticker-tape message ran across the screen: “What are you, as a proud Canadian, going to do to celebrate Centennial year?”
Good question, thought Clint.
That’s how he came to roller-skate across Canada, in an odyssey that began in Victoria 50 years ago this week.
That 7,900-kilometre effort landed him in the Guinness World Records book.
He earned another entry in 1974 when he became the first person to skate across the U.S. He earned two other records, too.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Clint Shaw wanted to mark Canada’s Centennial by crossing the country in a manner that hadn’t been done before. He settled on roller-skating, which he hadn’t done since age five.
His wife, the mother of their two preschool age daughters, wasn’t thrilled. Good luck, she said, but don’t expect us to be here when you get back.
So Shaw, then 25, had just a few friends and relations around when he set out from Mile Zero in April 1967. “I dunked my skates in the ocean at Dallas and Douglas, then I got on the road and started skating for St. John’s, Newfoundland.”
By the time he got to the Lower Mainland, his wife had relented. She piled the kids into their four-door Ford Fairlane 500 and followed him to Hope, which is where he ended up in hospital after his left leg went numb.
No more skating for you, the doctor said, but Shaw gave it just a month before picking up where he left off, this time with the family in a truck and camper.
It was hard going, day after day of skating toward traffic — no helmet, no pads — night after night of bunking in the camper. Some moments have stayed with him. “When you have people brush by you doing 100 miles per hour, that sticks out.”
Shaw desperately wanted a sponsor, but sponsors desperately didn’t want him, so he ended up relying on his parents.
He was also wearing crappy skates. A Canadian Press story of the day noted he had gone through 44 wheels, five axles and so many ball bearings he had lost count by the time he reached Regina. (Roller Skater Loses Bearings, read the headline in the Daily Colonist.)
Regina is where Shaw met former prime minister John Diefenbaker. The sitting prime minister, Lester Pearson, greeted him in Ottawa. All the Shaws were treated like royalty at Expo 67 in Montreal, ushered to the front of every line. Joey Smallwood was waiting when Clint finally rolled into St. John’s.
That wasn’t until 1968, though. By Nov. 11, 1967, the Shaws had made it as far as Rivière du Loup, Que., before packing it in for the winter. Clint resumed his journey the next Aug. 29 — his birthday — this time going solo until reaching Newfoundland that fall.
You would think that would be enough skating for one life, right?
“Seven years later, I found out nobody had done the States.”
By then Shaw was living in Victoria, working as an ironworker (in fact, he helped build the Times Colonist building).
The 1974 U.S. trip was much smoother than the Centennial slog. Shaw had decent skates. He had a sponsor in Pepsi. (“Join the Pepsi People … feelin’ free!” read his T-shirt; maybe Kendall Jenner should have tried that.) The soft drink company would hand over $500 every time he hit a certain landmark. “It was like playing Monopoly and passing Go.”
The U.S. media loved him. Time magazine, gushing about his physique, said he resembled Clint Eastwood. Shaw appeared on Tomorrow, Joey Bishop’s talk show and Hollywood Squares. Newspapers lined up.
“He sounded crazy and he was,” wrote the Record-Herald of Washington Court House (yes, that’s the name of a city), Ohio.
“He had a wild look in his eyes — the kind of look only a man overflowing with life can have — and he was. He looked at you when he told of his adventures and you felt his surplus energy rushing over you and you wanted to go with him.”
It took just 62 days to skate the 5,000 kilometres from New York to Los Angeles, which brought his second Guinness mention. A third record was set en route when he broke 100 miles one scorching-then-freezing day in New Mexico.
By then he had a taste for Guinness (the printed version). In 1975 he headed to Reseda, California, to set a roller-skating marathon record: seven days, 15 hours and seven minutes. A young Connie Chung skated with him during that effort. So did Three Dog Night drummer Floyd Sneed, Shaw’s childhood friend from Calgary.
After the Reseda marathon was done, a photographer snapped Shaw’s picture. “Then I took my skates off and I never put them on again.”
Those skates live in the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame in B.C. Place now. Shaw lives in Campbell River.
He’s on the road right now, though. “I’m redoing the trip,” he said, on the phone from Calgary. Started in Beacon Hill Park, heading for St. John’s.
“I’m driving across. At 75, I’m not about to put on my skates.”
So why do it in 1967?
“Because it was Centennial year and I’m a proud Canadian.”