Don’t give up on your dreams

The story of 16-year-old Tristan Graham and his mother Karen McCoy is a clear testament that we all have the power to help others and contribute to our community regardless of our personal adversities. Despite having to face their individual hardships, both have demonstrated how it’s possible to turn challenges into something positive.

Struggling to overcome a difficult childhood, McCoy found her solace through fitness where she competed and won many weight training awards. In addition to the physical benefits, she also discovered a more profound reward – that of mental strength – which helped her regain a sense of self-empowerment.

“There’s so much more to the act of exercise than the physical, and that’s what I learned over my years, and that’s what I wanted to bring forward,” she said.

The experience motivated McCoy to shift her focus from competing to teaching others how to harness this power. She wrote a book called, One Rep at a Time where she details her journey to health and fitness after years of swallowing her pain and burying her emotions in alcohol and drugs where she admits, “I lost myself for years.”

This strength would soon prove to be invaluable after the birth of her son, Tristan. Born with muscular dystrophy, he was officially diagnosed at five years of age with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD), a terminal disease where all of the body’s muscles continually break down.

The irony of a muscle-building mom with a child with a muscle-wasting disease

“The irony wasn’t lost on me, the fact that that I spent my entire life building muscle and teaching women how to build strong muscle, and then I give birth to a child with a muscle-wasting disease,” said McCoy. 

McCoy felt helpless to stop the disease from weakening every fiber in her son’s body, and as a result fell into a deep depression.
“I did not know how to tend to or even understand the emotional and spiritual loss that I was going through and it set me back for about eight years,” she said. 

Remarkably, McCoy found inspiration from Tristan, whose condition did not deter his indomitable spirit and desire to support his favorite causes. Mother and son established the Tristan Graham Foundation in 2005. His foundation is a donor-advised fund managed by the Victoria Foundation, making Tristan the Victoria Foundation’s youngest fund holder. To date, Tristan has raised $15,000 for the Victoria SPCA.

For Tristan deciding where to designate the funds was easy, he simply chose his favorite organization, the BC SPCA where he can often be found volunteering his time.

“Well, ever since I was young I’ve loved animals and I always thought about all the animals (that were) in need,” said Tristan. 

Penny Stone from the Victoria SPCA is clearly grateful.

“There are so many great charities out there that need the money.  Finances are hard for everybody and because we’re donation-based, we really need the money.  For him to choose us, it’s an honor.”

McCoy explains how the decision was truly his.

“A lot of people say, ‘How come you don’t give to research for DMD?’ but it’s his and we want him to feel empowered.”

Walk a Mile in Our Shoes

Feeling empowered to make a difference seems to be an inherent part of Tristan’s nature as he and his family have started an annual walk-a-thon called Walk a Mile in Our Shoes.

Last year’s inaugural walk raised almost $3,000. As well as designating funds to the Victoria branch of the BC SPCA, some will also go to help disabled children and various environmental causes.

Tristan’s explanation of what motivates him in tirelessly helping his community is fairly straightforward.

“Just don’t give up on your dreams.”

This year the walk-a-thon is set for June 23. To find out more about the event and Tristan’s foundation, go to or email
Donations to the Tristan Graham Foundation are accepted through the Victoria Foundation.

This blog post is based on a Vital People feature  by reporter Vee Cooper that originally aired on CHEK News @ 5. The Victoria Foundation sponsors Vital People each Sunday to share the stories of people and organizations working on the issues highlighted in the Victoria’s Vital Signs® community report that the foundation publishes annually.