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For her 80th birthday, this Parksville woman is rollerblading 350 kilometres

Starting on Aug. 9, Sonya Bardati will roll from Port Hardy to Parksville to raise money for the BC SPCA

By Jolene Rudisuela
July 22, 2022
Community
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

For her 80th birthday, this Parksville woman is rollerblading 350 kilometres

Starting on Aug. 9, Sonya Bardati will roll from Port Hardy to Parksville to raise money for the BC SPCA

Sonya Bardati holds her rollerblades that will take her 350km from Port Hardy to Parksville in August. Photo: Jolene Rudisuela / Capital Daily
Sonya Bardati holds her rollerblades that will take her 350km from Port Hardy to Parksville in August. Photo: Jolene Rudisuela / Capital Daily
Community
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

For her 80th birthday, this Parksville woman is rollerblading 350 kilometres

Starting on Aug. 9, Sonya Bardati will roll from Port Hardy to Parksville to raise money for the BC SPCA

By Jolene Rudisuela
July 22, 2022
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For her 80th birthday, this Parksville woman is rollerblading 350 kilometres
Sonya Bardati holds her rollerblades that will take her 350km from Port Hardy to Parksville in August. Photo: Jolene Rudisuela / Capital Daily

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Sonya Bardati is training hard—rotating between gym workouts, cycling, and rollerblading six days a week—in preparation for her birthday.

Her 80th birthday, that is.

The training days are going smoothly, and she looks forward to them; it’s the rest days that are harder. A few Tuesdays ago she used her rest day to get up on a ladder and trim the wisterias that grow along her back fence. But gardening, her trainer warned, does not count as resting.

On Aug. 9, the day she officially becomes an octogenarian, Sonya is planning the biggest rollerblading trip of her life. Over seven days, she will strap on her black and green rollerblades and roll down the 350 kilometres of winding, hilly highways between Port Hardy and Parksville, where she lives. To add to the fun, she’ll also be wearing a different costume each day, starting with a sexy casino girl outfit and ending with a purple, green, and gold Mardi Gras-inspired number.

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She planned the trip partially because she just wants to do it and knows she can make it—even despite her age, her osteoporosis, and her asthma. But she is also completing the journey to raise money for the BC SPCA, from whom she rescued her beloved grey tabby, Holly, 11 years ago.

When she tells cyclist friends what she is planning, they ask why she wouldn’t complete the journey on a bike—it would be much less taxing, faster, and safer.

“I’ve already gone across Canada by bike,” she replies, flashing her big, infectious smile. “So that’s nothing.”

Sonya Bardati is planning to dress up on each day of her seven-day journey—starting with this casino girl outfit on day one. Photo: Jolene Rudisuela / Capital Daily

An unconventional life

A rollerblade quest may not be how most people celebrate eight decades on Earth, but Sonya has never been one to do what is expected of her.

At 18, she joined the air force in Hamilton, Ont., becoming a fighter control operator and graduating first in her class. After receiving an honourable discharge in 1961 in order to marry Roberto Bardati, a civilian, she went on to get an accounting degree at the University of Sherbrooke and eventually became the first female registered industrial accountant—now called a chartered professional accountant—to graduate from the university.

While raising a family of three children with Roberto, she worked as the director of finance at Bishop’s University in Sherbrooke, Que., and continued to take university courses in Italian, Spanish, and French literature part-time.

“In those days, not too many women were working. You know, being a boss like that, I was one of the early ones,” Sonya said. “Some of them were looking at me saying, ‘Why in the world would you do that? Can’t you just stay home?’ Well, when I came home, I played with the kids and we had fun… It was a good life.”

Sonya had always been active, but it was after retiring that she and Roberto really got into cycling. She’s cycled in countries around the world, and twice—at age 59 and 60—she completed trips across Canada.

“Moss will not grow under my feet,” she said.

After Roberto’s death in 2012, Sonya met Ken and remarried. Ken was not a cyclist, but Sonya has changed that. In August, when Sonya completes her 350-km journey on rollerblades, Ken will be driving along behind her with a balloon-covered van, there for her when she needs a break and cheering her on the whole time.

Rolling on

Decades ago, at Sonya and Roberto’s former James Bay home, Sonya would rollerblade all around the neighbourhood, running errands and getting groceries—until the Thrifty Foods she frequented put up “no rollerblading in the store” signs.

When the couple wintered in Yuma, Arizona, Sonya and Roberto would rollerblade up and down a steep hill to the local YMCA. When Roberto fell on the hill and decided to stick to cycling, Sonya kept on rolling. She wasn’t going to stop—roller skating has been a part of her life since she was a kid.

Sonya was around 12 the first time she strapped on a pair of roller skates. At the Quebec orphanage where she lived from age seven to 14, she would attach the four wheels onto her shoes and skate across the smooth terrazzo courtyard.

The nuns who ran the orphanage soon noticed the talent Sonya and a friend had for roller skating and enlisted them to put on shows for local seniors. They would skate in tandem, holding on to each other for tight spins, and finishing with the splits, which always got loud applause.

For the shows, Sonya remembers getting dressed up in white sweaters and puffy shorts the same brilliant pink as the American Beauty roses now planted in her backyard.

“It was easy going at that time,” Sonya said. “Now getting closer to 80 it’s tougher. I wouldn’t do the airplane or the swing and all that sort of thing anymore, that’s for sure.”

Now, when she trains, she wears the same bright pink windbreaker, and she recently bought a brand new pair of rollerblades. These new ones have larger wheels and roll better. She’s clocking faster times with them—easily reaching 10 km/h on pavement—but that might just be because she’s been training.

“My friends, they say I’m crazy,” Sonya laughed. “But some of them say, ‘Oh, Sonya, that’s you all the way.’”

Sonya Bardati regularly rollerblades on the highways around Parksville in her bright pink windbreaker. Photo: Jennifer Smith / Submitted

‘I’m not going to stop’

Leg strength, Sonya says, is not an issue; to prove her point, she leans back into a 90-degree squat against the side of her house. Now her focus in training for the last couple of weeks is to improve her stamina so that she can complete the journey.

“It doesn’t make a difference how long it takes me,” she said. “I’m going to start early in the morning and go maybe seven hours. I’m just going to have stops every so often… and then off again. I just love rollerblading.”

A few months ago, Sonya enlisted the help of personal trainer Jennifer Smith, owner of Smith Performance Athletics, to create a training program to get her in rollerblading shape.

The program includes strength training, cycling, and rollerblading increasing distances up to 50km.

When asked if she’s ever had a client like Sonya before, Smith laughs—“No.” From her age, her goal, her determination, and her personality, Smith says Sonya is completely unique, but that’s also the reason she’s absolutely sure Sonya will complete her goal.

“Just the ambition that she has was really inspiring,” Smith says. “I don’t know many 20, 30, or 40 year olds who would want to try to attempt a goal like that. I really loved it right from the get go.”

Sonya Bardati has been training for weeks ahead of her 350km journey from Port Hardy to Parksville. Photos: Jennifer Smith / Submitted

The biggest challenge that Sonya will face, besides the distance, is road conditions, Smith says. There are a lot of potholes and areas on the route where the shoulders have degraded, making them particularly dangerous on rollerblades.

This is a risk Sonya already knows well. Her osteoporosis makes her bones brittle like glass; Sonya has broken nine bones over the past five years. In October 2020, she was cycling along past Coombs when she hit a patch of gravel in the middle of an intersection and flew off her bike, breaking two fingers on her right hand and her left thumb. A few years earlier, she broke her cheekbone and nose in a similar situation. Just this past June, she broke her left thumb again after falling while rollerblading on a downhill section of Highway 19. She’s still wearing a splint.

“I am not going to stop,” she said. “I will not be a rocking chair granny just because I have osteoporosis.”

Earlier in the year, Sonya and Ken drove up to Port Hardy to check the road conditions. There is one particular “doozy of a hill” that Sonya is going to ride down in the van, instead of on her rollerblades. (“I’m crazy, but I’m not that crazy,” she said.) But there is also a lot of gravel on the sides of the roads, which is concerning to her.

For months, Sonya has been contacting MLAs, municipal representatives, and Mainroad, the company contracted by the government to maintain the mid- and north-Island highways, to get the roads cleaned up. While Parksville quickly cleaned up its shoulders, she hasn’t had luck with the bigger highways.

In an email to Capital Daily, Mainroad North Island’s general manager Chris Cowley wrote that the company’s contract with the Ministry of Transportation only includes limited sweeping—and additional sweeping is allocated from public funds.

“As a contractor we cannot self-award public money and the expense of that scope of additional sweeping would be very high,” he wrote.

While the company isn’t able to complete the sweeping, they donated $500 to the fundraising campaign.

Sonya says that if the shoulders still aren’t clear in August, then she’ll just have to roll in the middle of the road.

Holly the cat

Sonya’s 15-year-old grey tabby is a little shy and doesn’t particularly like being picked up, but that’s why Sonya and her late husband decided to adopt her in the first place.

Holly, Sonya's 15-year-old cat, has a snack. Photo: Jolene Rudisuela / Capital Daily

It was December 2011, and Roberto, Sonya’s husband of 50 years, was dying of cancer. While he was undergoing chemo treatments, Sonya went down to Arizona to sell their house. When she returned, she told him she would like to adopt a cat—unbeknownst to her, Roberto had had the same thought and had visited the SPCA the day before.

Her name was Holly, and because it was so close to Christmas the name seemed perfect. Five months later, Roberto died.

It still makes Sonya emotional to speak about, 10 years later, but what kept her sane as she grieved the loss of her husband was Holly. Throughout that time, Holly was there for Sonya, a constant loving presence when she needed it most.

While Holly is getting older, Sonya can’t quite put into words the impact that she has had on her life. Through the fundraiser, she hopes to give back to the BC SPCA so others can find their own companions.

With only a few weeks left until the trip, Sonya is already thinking about what her next big goal will be. She’ll keep cycling and rollerblading, of course, but she’s contemplating trying something a little different next: writing a book about her life.

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