In April, Sebastien Jacques began his walk from Virginia Beach to California: That's over 3,100 miles or more than six million steps.

sebastienjacques.com

What began as a typical day on the practice court at Virginia Tech for then-senior Sebastien Jacques ended in a bout of dizziness that would not only change his game, but would profoundly affect his university experience and his life.

A Tech tennis standout, Jacques had been named to the All-ACC Academic men's tennis team and the ACC Academic Honor Roll. Over his four years, he racked up a 64-36 record in singles and 64-43 in doubles.

Jacques was a focused competitor with a passion for improving his game. So, although that moment on the court gave him pause, he ignored the dizzy feeling, determined to play through it.

Shrugging off the symptoms worked for a while. Yet, as the days passed, his struggles grew, both on the court and off. After two increasingly tough weeks, Jacques sought help from tennis coach Jim Thompson, who suggested that he visit a doctor.

The diagnosis: a pineal cystic tumor. The tumor, located on his brain, was creating pressure within his head, sapping his energy and interfering with his ability to concentrate. Eventually, it would result in loss of motor skills, making it difficult for the former tennis star to complete simple tasks or even walk across a room.

  • Sebastien Jacques '11 walking across America

    Sebastien Jacques '11 in Blacksburg
    (Photo by Dave Knachel)

The fatigue, dizziness, and inability to focus overshadowed his senior year and continued to nag at him for four years after he graduated. The doctors in Jacques' native Canada, however, weren't convinced the tumor was behind his troubles and declined to operate, deeming the brain surgery too risky.

Jacques (marketing management '11), who was accustomed to overcoming challenges on the court, refused to accept that this would be his lot in life. Instead, he poured his efforts into researching the problem online.

In 2014, Jacques' commitment paid off. Through his online research, he found a doctor in Santa Monica, California — Daniel Kelly — with extensive experience in the kind of surgery needed to remove the tumor. With the Canadian health care system unwilling to pay for the procedure, Jacques embarked on a campaign to raise the funds for surgery. Ultimately, his friends, supporters from the tennis community, and members of the Hokie Nation contributed $110,000 toward the procedure.

On Feb. 12, 2015, Kelly removed the tumor from Jacques' brain. The surgery was a success, and following a lengthy recovery period, Jacques pursued tennis again, taking a job as an instructor in Australia.

Yet, the tumor continued to cast a shadow on his life.

Once people in Australia heard his story, Jacques was asked to speak to families facing serious health issues. Inspired by how his experiences could offer hope to others facing difficult situations, Jacques decided to take his message to a larger audience, a choice that would bring him back to the United States.

So it was that Jacques began to walk across America. His goal was simple: to raise awareness of the power of persistence, one step at a time. His trek started in his native Canada with a walk from Magog to Montreal, and finally Quebec City.

Then, on April 21, Jacques started across the United States with a plan to traverse from Virginia Beach to California. That's over 3,100 miles or more than six million steps.

As he continues his journey, Jacques posts regular updates on his website, as well as on social media on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. He's depending on the generosity of strangers, as well as Virginia Tech alumni and friends, for support along the way, including providing places to rest or even stay overnight.

In early May, Jacques reached Blacksburg, walking up Beamer Way to greet an applauding group of about 25 people, including his old coach and current tennis team members, in front of Lane Stadium.

"This is absolutely amazing," said Jacques, beaming, as he embraced old friends.

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  • Sebestien Jacques '11 walking through Blacksburg

    Jacques, passing through Blacksburg, was met by men's tennis head coach Jim Thompson (his former coach) and current tennis team members. Photo by Mai Khanh Nguyen.

  • Sebestien Jacques '11 walking through Blacksburg

    Jacques, passing through Blacksburg, was met by men's tennis head coach Jim Thompson (his former coach) and current tennis team members. Photo by Mai Khanh Nguyen.

  • Sebestien Jacques '11 walking through Blacksburg

    Jacques, passing through Blacksburg, was met by men's tennis head coach Jim Thompson (his former coach) and current tennis team members. Photo by Mai Khanh Nguyen.

  • Sebestien Jacques '11 walking through Blacksburg

    Jacques, passing through Blacksburg, was met by men's tennis head coach Jim Thompson (his former coach) and current tennis team members. Photo by Mai Khanh Nguyen.

  • Sebestien Jacques '11 walking through Blacksburg

    Jacques, passing through Blacksburg, was met by men's tennis head coach Jim Thompson (his former coach) and current tennis team members. Photo by Mai Khanh Nguyen.

  • Sebestien Jacques '11 walking through Blacksburg

    Jacques, passing through Blacksburg, was met by men's tennis head coach Jim Thompson (his former coach) and current tennis team members. Photo by Mai Khanh Nguyen.

  • Sebestien Jacques '11 walking through Blacksburg

    Jacques, passing through Blacksburg, was met by men's tennis head coach Jim Thompson (his former coach) and current tennis team members. Photo by Mai Khanh Nguyen.

  • Sebestien Jacques '11 walking through Blacksburg

    Jacques, passing through Blacksburg, was met by men's tennis head coach Jim Thompson (his former coach) and current tennis team members. Photo by Mai Khanh Nguyen.

  • Sebestien Jacques '11 walking through Blacksburg

    Jacques, passing through Blacksburg, was met by men's tennis head coach Jim Thompson (his former coach) and current tennis team members. Photo by Mai Khanh Nguyen.

  • Sebestien Jacques '11 walking through Blacksburg

    Jacques, passing through Blacksburg, was met by men's tennis head coach Jim Thompson (his former coach) and current tennis team members. Photo by Mai Khanh Nguyen.

  • Sebestien Jacques '11 walking through Blacksburg

    Jacques, passing through Blacksburg, was met by men's tennis head coach Jim Thompson (his former coach) and current tennis team members. Photo by Mai Khanh Nguyen.

The moment marked a homecoming, but also a turning point in his journey. Jacques' mom had followed him by car as he walked with a stroller to carry supplies that bore a sign reading "Walk Across America," along with his website and social media handle. After Blacksburg, however, he'd be on his own, moving at a pace of about 25 miles per day. He plans to finish in October by walking into Santa Monica, California, to Providence Saint John's Health Center, where he received the life-changing surgery.

Jacques hopes his story will inspire others through tough times. "If you've got your health, you're good to go," Jacques said. "You can make it even if you're just taking it one day at a time."

As of Aug. 23, Jacques is in Arizona. Here's a look at some of his early thoughts and observations:

Sebastien Jacques at the Grand Canyon

10:41 p.m., Tuesday, May 16:

I am crossing the West Virginia/Kentucky border tomorrow. I've really enjoyed my five days walking in West Virginia. The people have been amazing! I was given tons of water bottles, food, free accommodations, and many stories to share. 

It's quite sad to see how some of the towns are now very desolate and not very well kept up due to the coal mining industry struggles. But the people still have a great heart, and I definitely saw it during my time here. 

I've been averaging about 22 miles the last week, with my longest being 27 miles. I still can't believe that less than two-and-a-half years ago, I could barely walk 15 minutes a day. I truly hope I can inspire, encourage and give hope to people facing obstacles in their lives. It's humbling to see all the messages I've been receiving. On to Kentucky!

9:11 p.m., Wednesday, May 31:

I have now left Louisville, walked over the Big Four Bridge to enter the state of Indiana! In the past week or so, I saw a bear 100 meters from me, a copperhead snake only five feet from me, my stroller was dropped off a tow truck, and I've been in torrential rain! The Virginia Tech community helped me get some housing a few times, but now I will be entering states where I don't have any contacts. 

I am often asked how do I keep on going and not view this walk as too long. It might sound cliché, but every day when I wake up, I tell myself that I must walk 10 hours, that's it. I need to stay in the present moment and not start to think about the thousands of miles left to walk. We can all accomplish amazing feats, but it takes courage to keep moving forward when times get tough, and keep repeating.

2:39 p.m., Friday, June 23:

I try to put sunscreen on as often as possible, but it's still not enough. When it rains, I walk through it. I have my Gore-Tex shoes, rain pants, and a flashy yellow poncho. I carry my tent, clothes, electronics, and food and water supplies.

I've been receiving the most amazing messages lately: A man losing 80 pounds since following my surgery in the media, people going to run for the first time, a woman who wanted to end her life but found hope in my "one day at a time" approach, kids in school starting their day with the teacher reading my posts, and a group of 60 patients in a physical disability center reading my posts every day to feel inspired.

It's surreal to see all this for me. To see how I can have somewhat of an impact on someone's life is a humbling experience! 

7:47 p.m., Thursday, July 20:

I am now in Colorado.

There has been a steady incline in elevation since Wichita, Kansas. I'm now at about 3,600 feet. I will be reaching the Rockies in about two weeks.

It has been a little hotter the last few weeks with temperatures of 100 degrees, but for some reason, I'm enjoying the challenge. I can't hide from the heat anyway, so I might as well face it with a positive outlook!

I have been hosted in various homes for the last three weeks. It has been absolutely amazing to experience so many people helping out.

I saw a rattlesnake today on the road. I was quite close to it thinking, "It can't hurt me," but I was warned to keep a bigger distance.

I have passed my halfway mark. It's quite amazing to consider the distance I've covered when I look at the map. One day at a time for months on end can definitely lead to big things.

A lot of people have stopped to take pictures and tell me how my story is helping them go through tough times. This is the sole reason I'm doing this walk: to hopefully help others keep moving forward.

8:46 p.m., Wednesday, Aug. 23:

I am now in Prescott Valley, Arizona. I had an amazing last week, having walked through Monument Valley and having the chance to go see the Grand Canyon.

I've been receiving so many messages of people finding hope in my story who are facing depression, suicidal thoughts, and just wanting to do more with their lives. The goal of this walk was exactly that. It wasn't a personal challenge where I wanted to cross the country, but a statement to show people that we can overcome tough times in our lives and accomplish amazing things afterwards.

I hope that this walk also teaches people that if you want to accomplish something big, think small — small, repetitive actions. I've walked more than 2,500 miles so far, but it all comes down to waking up in the morning and walking 25 miles for the day. One tiny step at a time. In three weeks, I'll have walked across the country.

We all have the abilities to accomplish big things in life, but it takes discipline and consistency day in and day out to keep our goals and dreams alive.

I haven't met any Hokies on the road lately, but I know that the Hokie Nation is with me on this journey.

Sebastien Jacques and a fan