When examining his post-graduation future, Jordan Kozina wasn’t sure what his plans would be; all he knew was that he wanted to take a bike ride to think about it.
A star running back on McMaster’s football team for four seasons, many are familiar with the Brantford native’s penchant for getting first downs and marching his team up the field. But this summer, Kozina will be covering territory in a whole different way.
The ride that was meant to help him figure life out has turned in to a major undertaking itself: this summer, Kozina will be cycling across Canada to raise money and awareness for the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada.
“I didn’t know what I was going to do. I just thought of taking a bike ride and thinking about it,” he said as if implying an afternoon stroll around town.
But once the history student starting getting some attention for his trek, the idea really got rolling.
“When I was planning it, I said to myself ‘this seems like something people might want to get behind,’ and I thought I would raise some money and do some good while I’m doing it,” said Kozina, at the campaign’s kickoff event this past Tuesday, riding a stationary bike from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the McMaster University Student Centre.
Multiple Sclerosis, commonly known as MS, is the world’s most common central nervous system disease. It’s an unpredictable disease that attacks the Myelin (protective wrapping) of the brain and spinal cord.
Victims of the disease suffer from a wide range of symptoms, notably the loss of vision, balance, mobility, hearing and memory. It’s a debilitating sickness that in most cases alters a victim’s life completely and permanently.
The disease is particularly common in Canada; an average of three Canadians per day are diagnosed with MS, and 240 in every 100,000 Canadians are diagnosed at some point, the highest rate in the world.
For Kozina, associating his trek with MS was an easy decision to make. In January, his aunt Mary passed away after a lengthy battle with the disease.
“MS is one disease that’s always been close to me. … I knew my Aunt Mar more as a kid, so I didn’t understand what she went through. It was only recently when things regressed and I started to notice it.”
Originally, he considered doing fundraising for acquired brain injury after a high school friend was severely injured in a car crash in Spain. But with his friend’s improved health and the passing of his aunt, it became clear that supporting the MS Society was the way to go.
“With my aunt passing and my friend being diagnosed, I was just like … it’s got to be MS,” said Kozina. “She was the first passing in my family, which affects people in different ways. It motivated me to do this.”
“I never knew her without it,” he adds.
As far as a cross-Canada journey, Jeff Dale, Chair of the Brantford chapter of the MS Society of Canada, says Kozina’s task is unprecedented.
“This is the first time I know of that anyone has done this for our cause. What Jordan is undertaking here is nothing short of phenomenal,” said Dale.
Flying out to British Columbia on June 12, the journey will begin in Tofino, BC and end in Cape Spear, NFLD – a total of over 9,000 km. Kozina is hoping the trek will take him “around three months,” and will consist of daily bike rides and stops at campsites.
Kozina has set a fundraising goal of $100,000, but wants to “blow that out of the water,” in terms of money and awareness raised.
While the journey is certainly a physically demanding task, Kozina’s impressive football – and rugby – resumé should put to rest any doubts about the 24-year old breaking down physically.
In four seasons with the Marauder football squad, Kozina totaled 2,439 rushing yards, including 1,191 as a rookie when he was named an OUA All-Star. Also a deft receiver, Kozina played a hybrid back position for McMaster the past two seasons, making the Marauder offence one of the most dangerous in the country.
But while he’s well known for his football career, his time as a rugby player is perhaps more impressive. A former member of Canada’s under-19 and -21 national teams, Kozina took a two-year hiatus from McMaster, enrolled at the University of Victoria and suited up for Canada at the Rugby Sevens World Cup in 2009.
“Hopefully I won’t be too skinny and lose too much weight on this trip,” joked the 210-pounder, who plans to return to the pitch with the Brantford Harlequins club team after his journey is finished.
While rugby and football have been Kozina’s passion for years, they’ll take a backseat to cycling for the next few months as the campaign gets underway. At its onset, the long journey and lofty fundraising goals are daunting. But as the launch date approaches, Kozina is simply excited to hit the road on his bike.
“I’m dreaming big with this. I feel like it’s attainable. Goals are meant to be broken.”