‘One foot in front of the other;’ Cameco CEO discovers love of walking amidst pandemic

Tim Gitzel’s journey to nearly 1,000 miles started in the early days of the pandemic.

Gitzel is the CEO of Cameco, the world’s largest publicly traded uranium company. Before the pandemic began, he spent two to three weeks a month travelling for meetings and work commitments all over the world. When COVID-19 shut down borders, he suddenly found himself with more time than he knew what to do with and one of his colleagues suggested he start walking to and from Cameco’s head office on 11th Street West where Gitzel and a handful of others were still working.

Walking to work is no small feat for Gitzel — he lives in The Willows and the walk is eight kilometres one way. But he fell in love with his walk commute (which takes about an hour and 20 minutes each way) and is still walking 14 months later. He expects to log his 1,000th mile (1,609th kilometre) later this month.

He spoke with Brainsport Times editor Andrea Hill about his experience days after registration opened for Cameco’s annual Step Up for Mental Health run/walk, which takes place over a week in October.

BT: What do you do on your walks? 

TG: have my great AirPods, I have a couple sets of them actually, and my iPhone and you can listen to all kinds of things. I’m a big podcast listener or listening to the news just to keep up on things and you can kind of make mental notes as to what you’re going to accomplish during the day and then, in some of the quieter spots, you can make phone calls.

We have thousands of employees around the world and I worry about them. I worry about their mental health and their physical health and I don’t get to see them. I used to travel around to our different workplaces in Canada and the U.S. and Australia and now I can’t do that and I can’t see them so I try and keep in touch with them and just encourage them to look after themselves and their families and their physical and mental health.

BT: What’s your favourite podcast these days?

TG: I went to law school with a guy named Dave Herle and Dave Herle has a podcast called The Herle Burley and so it’s on politics in Canada and I’m a regular listener to that.

BT: Did you walk all winter?

TG: I was ready to bail about November when it started getting cold and icy and slippery and the path was snowed over and then between (Brainsport owner) Brian Michasiw and Jonathan Huntington (Cameco’s vice-president of sustainability and stakeholder relations), all of a sudden one day in my office there’s this big box sitting on my desk and I opened it up and there were two pairs of shoes, one had studs in them, they were these winter running shoes and a whole bunch of different running gear and jackets and reflective jackets and I had no excuse. They said “You don’t have an excuse now, you have to get going.” So I kept going. If it got below minus 25 C or so I might have taken a pass or only gone once, but we managed to keep it going.

BT: What health benefits have you seen from walking?

TG: It helps to keep your weight in check and you certainly get a few muscles that you maybe didn’t know you had from walking. I just don’t dare to think what it would have been if it was just desk to home to couch to Netflix.

BT: What, if anything, have you learned from walking?

TG: Once you get going it’s almost refreshing. It’s almost addictive to some extent. This is a beautiful city we live in and I’ll tell you these seasons April, May, June, through the summer, it’s just a spectacular place.

Anybody can do it. You’ve just got to get started and you put one foot in front of the other and just keep going.

BT: Do you plan to keep walking as life gets back to normal?

TG: I’ll have to be back on the road again. I want to go and, as soon as it’s safe, visit our work sites and our employees and our shareholders, stakeholders and I sit on some boards and want to get together with those again. So it’s going to be a battle to keep the walking or running or whatever I decide to do going, but I’m sure going to try hard, just get up an hour or two earlier in the morning and stretch your day out a bit. It’s important and it’s been just super for me.

BT: Why is Step Up For Mental Health so important for you?

TG: Mental health issues have been around for a long time, but we really started putting the spotlight on it a few years ago and just said we have to do more because we know that there’s not an employee or a family member or a community out there that doesn’t have mental health issues.

Today we have a pandemic, COVID-19, but we’ve got an epidemic on mental health that started way before the pandemic. And it’s going to go way after. There’s going to be a wave of mental health issues that we’re going to have to deal with for years.

If we can fund some community groups and organizations that are helping out, that’s what we want to do.

BT: Why is it important to encourage physical activity as part of this mental health fundraiser?

TG: Whether it’s in the on a treadmill in your house or walking around the block or getting out getting some fresh air, the physical health part is important, but it really helps with mental health, just seeing the world is still out there and the sky is still blue in the sun shines. And so that’s part of what we want to do. It’s something everyone can do, it’s not a race.

This interview has been edited and condensed.



Registration is now open for the third-annual Step Up For Mental Health event, which will take place virtually from Oct. 1 to 6.

Adult registration is $50 until June 1 and all adult participants will receive a Step-Up T-shirt, hoodie and motivational mental health/running journal.

Students (up to age 18) can pay $25 to register and will receive the bunnyhug and medal.

All money raised from entry fees for the event will be matched by Cameco with the full sum being made available for mental health initiatives across the province.

Last year’s virtual event raised $380,000.