Winnipegger with terminal brain cancer teams up with longtime friend to win Amazing Race Canada

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Catherine Wreford and Craig Ramsay had already experienced a hurdle harder than any reality show challenge when the friends of 25 years appeared on season 8 of The Amazing Race Canada.

When the 42-year-old Winnipeg-born Wreford was diagnosed with anaplastic astrocytoma, a malignant brain tumor, in 2013, she was told she would have somewhere between two and six years to live.

“I wanted to show anyone who has something that is an obstacle that they can get through it,” Wreford says during a phone interview. “They too can muster the courage to take down the walls that are in front of them.”

Ramsay, 45, of Windsor, Ont., who stood by her side before and after the race, felt much the same way.

“Our rationale for the race itself was that Catherine had a potentially limited time here,” says Ramsay. “She has inspired people throughout her life and even more so now, I wanted longevity in this run to showcase as much of Catherine’s story as possible.”

On Tuesday, Wreford and Ramsay were declared the winners on CTV’s northern edition of the reality show, where 10 teams race across Canada and complete a mighty catalog of challenges in pursuit of a $250,000 cash prize and two Chevrolet Silverado ZR2s.

SEE | Wreford and Ramsay discuss the challenges they faced:

Best friends win the Amazing Race Canada

CBC’s Marj Dowhos talks to Catherine Wreford of Winnipeg and Craig Ramsay of Windsor, Ont., about how they overcame the other contestants, as well as Wreford’s terminal brain cancer, to win Season 8 of The Amazing Race Canada.

Neighbors were siblings Jesse and Marika of Canmore, Alta.; sisters Franca and Nella of Edmonton; and brothers Brendan and Connor of Parry Sound, Ont.

“I’m 45 years old. Combined, Wreford and I have ages that far exceed any of the previous winners,” says Ramsay, who first met Wreford at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School.

“With Great raceit was an opportunity to step in and show what support for a friend going through a terrible diagnosis is and often looks like.”

Both contestants had to bring a unique bag of tricks to win it all amid fierce competition. Apart from the prowess of fitness experts, Ramsay, who is also an author, TV personality and a staunch, outspoken member of the LGBTQ community, says he has a photographic memory. Wreford added his important skills from a mathematician and former nursing school student.

“There are so many skills that go into being a well-rounded film, TV and vocal artist,” says Ramsay, adding the fact that his friend Wreford owned a mortgage company to the list. “We’ve had so many skills that no one knew about and it surprised other teams.”

Wreford is teaching a children’s theater class in Winnipeg in 2018. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

This season, all 10 teams began in Mont-Tremblant, Que., and went to 24 cities, covering over 20,000 kilometers of coast-to-coast travel.

For the past half-decade, this geographic lineup and many like it have defined the long-running series built on the allure of the great outdoors. But as Season 8 played on, showrunner Mark Lysakowski, like many who work in the film and television industry, felt the difficult challenges suddenly presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It was a very stressful time for me as a television producer,” says Lysakowski, who encountered several delays from the originally planned 2020 premiere of the series, which faced an additional postponement into 2021 before debuting in 2022. He so also participants such as Wreford and Ramsay bow out temporarily due to their own positive tests.

“I had to put things into perspective. This was just a TV show next to the people who were losing their lives around the world,” adds Lysakowski, who understandably prioritized stopping a viral spread for the concern of lower viewership during production delays.

As a result, the three previously COVID-positive teams, which included Wreford and Ramsay, were given the opportunity to return to the race.

“We were overjoyed to be invited back when the 2020 pandemic hit, but it was terrifying for us,” says Ramsay. “We would never want any team in the future to ever go through what we did.”

‘Past her expiration date’

In Lysakowski’s mind, the challenges of COVID-19 still didn’t stop the show from continuing to reward two people he considers the embodiment of competition and a difficult period.

“Catherine’s story is filled with emotion because, as she says, she is past her expiration date,” says Lysakowski. “It’s her resilience as a person, but her ability to go through this adventure and tell her story that gives people hope and something to aspire to.”

The winning team used Wreford’s story as motivation to keep moving throughout the competition.

“Having these years of struggle and having the opportunity to revisit this goal as our best friends was worth it,” says Ramsay. “We hope Canadians watch this and take this opportunity to connect with their friends and create special memories together.”

As with many things Ramsay says, Wreford tends to agree.

“This competition was about trust. I trust him 100 percent and I know he trusts me,” she adds. “When you have that, the world is your oyster.”

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