Inspired by a superhero; paddling for change
Since his early childhood days, Mario Rigby has felt like an outsider. From growing up in the only Black family in a small village in Germany, to moving back to his birthplace of Turks & Caicos at the age of 11 where he was criticized for being different, he struggled with straddling two cultures. As a result, Mario and his brother found comfort in exploring the outdoors together, fishing, camping and caving as they learned about their ever-changing surroundings.
At the age of 16, Mario moved to Toronto, where his love for adventure flourished. There, he discovered new ways to explore the outdoors, biking, paddling and hiking—trekking the untrodden trails of Ontario’s lush landscape. His entrepreneurial spirit and athleticism led him to open a business in the fitness industry, but he knew he was destined for more.
“When I was a kid, I was influenced by T’Challa from the animated Black Panther series,” Mario shares of first seeing a superhero who looked like himself. “In one episode, T’Challa’s father dies, and before he becomes king, he decides to go on a journey across Africa. Looking to truly understand his people, he explores the continent [alone] by foot. He falls in love, gets into trouble, gets robbed—experiences all these beautiful things on his journey. It was such a beautiful story, I knew I wanted to experience that in my life someday too."
In 2018, Mario made his dream a reality, completing a two-year walking excursion from Cape Town, South Africa to Cairo, Egypt. “I wanted to explore, to see cultures and experience humanity in a way that is not really portrayed,” he explains. “I wanted to do what T’Challa did in that episode and show kids a real person who is setting an example.”
Hungry for another challenge, Mario recently set out on a new journey, this time in his own backyard. In August of 2020, he completed a kayaking expedition that took him across Lake Ontario (355 kilometres from Burlington to the Thousand Islands) with the aim of promoting domestic and sustainable travel while raising conversations around diversity in the outdoor adventure space. “People are looking for inspiration to get out of their house, so I wanted to show them what’s possible,” Mario says.
To challenge himself, Mario completed the 20-day trek in a sit-in sea kayak, his first time manoeuvring a watercraft of this kind. For Mario, a highlight was the learning process. “It took me 45 days [of training] to get my body accustomed to the physical challenges that I had to face—dehydration during really hot weather and learning how to steer properly.” Mario was faced with unexpected challenges as well. “I had full-body muscle spasms, so I had to work through that. Horrible thunderstorms erupted from out of nowhere and continued throughout most of my journey.”
The rush of approaching the finish line made the journey totally worthwhile. “It was a really strange feeling,” he confesses. “That day was one of my fastest—I clocked over 48 kilometres, but I passed the end point and went nearly one kilometre further than planned. I was so into it I didn’t even check the map, I just kept going.”
Another feel-good moment for Mario? Raising over $4,000 for MyStand—a local charity focused on providing mentorship services for low income and racialized vulnerable youth in Toronto: “One-hundred per cent of donations for my journey went to MyStand, and all my expeditions will be doing the same.”
Up next, Mario is headed to British Columbia for a project on how Indigenous communities are being impacted by environmental injustices. “We want Canadians to get a better understanding of what is going on around them,” he explains.
Through his adventures, Mario has evolved from an outsider to an outdoor-hero, inspiring the next generation of eco-explorers to be more inclusive and travel sustainably. In doing so, he’s become Canada’s T’Challa.
This article originally appeared in the Winter 2020/21 issue, Everybody Outside