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Martin Parnell

Finish The Race Attitude

Blog 4/25

The Ageless Athlete

March 6th 2024

By Martin Parnell and Malc Kent

Contents
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The Ageless Athlete

Contents

Prologue

1 Off and Running

2 Triathlons and Ultras

3 Quests for Kids

4 Ultras and Beyond

5 Malc Kent: The Early Years

6 Malc Kent: The Evolution of the Running Specialist

7 62 Beats 47

8 Hockey Injury

9 Racing 5’s and 10’s

10 Half Time

11 Marathon of Afghanistan

12 All or Nothing

13 The 60’s: Boston or Bust

14 The Stroke

15 COVID-19

Afterword

Acknowledgements

About the Authors

Chapter 3
Quests for Kids (Part 2 of 2)

2015 started off full of promise. The Quests were done and I was starting on my professional speaking career. My first engagement was in late February in Winnipeg at the Recreation Connections Manitoba conference. The week before I was meant to leave I had terrible migraines and my doctor gave me some extra-strength Tylenol. When I arrived at the conference hotel, the event organizer said I looked terrible and got me transportation to the Grace Hospital.

There they did a CT scan and diagnosed a massive clot on the brain. I was in an induced coma for two days and spent two weeks in hospital before returning to Calgary. My world had turned upside down and for two months I could do nothing other than taking my meds and being fed by Sue.

In May, Sue and I started to walk outside and I finally felt that my life was turning around. In 2014 the Scotiabank Calgary Marathon organization held a special race to mark 50 years of the event, a 50-km ultra, which I ran. In 2015 I was only able to participate in their Goodlife Fitness 5-km walk. But I was grateful that I was fit enough to do it. At noon on Sunday, May 31, Sue and I made our way to the start line, where we met our “Walk Club”: Elaine, Ally, Neil, Brian, Tom, Alyssa and Kurt.

I’m always excited at the start of any race, and it was no different for this one. When the gun went off, we surged forward like a herd of turtles. Over the next hour we chatted to spectators, hung out with moms and dads pushing strollers, thanked volunteers and enjoyed the aid stations. It was one of the most relaxed and fun races I’ve ever done.

Two weeks later Sue and I lined up for our second race of the year, the Footstock 5-km Walk in Cochrane. I had hit the 600-km mark in The Long Walk to Recovery and was looking forward to the race. For this event Sue and I picked up the pace and completed the 5 km in a respectable 51 minutes and 35 seconds. At the end of the walk, we were tucking into a pancake and bacon brunch when we heard our names announced. We had both come in second in our respective age groups.

Since the diagnosis in Winnipeg, my speaking career had been put on hold, but I knew the time had come to step back into the ring. Fred Hurdman from Raymond James Wealth Management had asked me to make a presentation to clients. I was pretty nervous but got a tremendous reception. Talking about the events that had occurred in late February made me realize how lucky I was to have pulled through. I could have been in a place where a CT scan was not available, and my clot could have caused a fatal stroke.

This presentation marked the first time I had talked about my medical condition in public, and I became emotional when I saw Sue in the audience. At the end of the presentation, I left the stage and gave Sue a huge hug. I know it can be harder to be the support person than it is to be the one who is sick. Week after week, Sue and I maintained our regime, up to 8 km of walking per day, and by early July we had reached the 800-km mark. These walks gave us time to talk and enjoy nature.

We walked all over Cochrane and then headed out to Bragg Creek, Canmore and Calgary. On July 10 I went to see Dr. Subramaniam, and he showed me a scan that showed the swelling at the back of my eye had gone down and my eyesight was back to normal.

He told me that the clot had shrunk considerably, but it was not gone. He reduced my number of medications and scheduled another MRI for September. He noted that there was still no way to identify a cause for the clot and just advised me to stay hydrated in the hot weather. At the end of the appointment, he gave me some great news. I could start running, playing tennis, swimming and driving again. Sue mentioned that she had some chores lined up, but I didn’t think we should rush things.

On July 18 I embarked on my first run in 146 days. I was apprehensive as I slowly jogged down the road and onto the river path. My legs felt heavy, and my breathing was laboured. After ten minutes, however, I found my rhythm, and as I ran along the mighty Bow I had a huge smile on my face. I completed the 5 km in 33 minutes and 29 seconds and felt that I was back.

At the end of August, Sue and I finally took the break we needed in Waterton Lakes National Park in southwest Alberta. We stayed in a cabin near Beaver Mines, which formed in the early 1900s with the opening of a coal mine. At one time, Beaver Mines had over 1,500 residents; however, because of the requirement for steel (rail tracks) during the wars and a reduced need for coal, the mines eventually closed and residents dispersed. The last mine shut down in 1971. For the past 30 years, Beaver Mines has been considered a ghost town and has been featured in many books.

These days the main features of the hamlet are a general store, pub and tennis court. Yes, tennis again! Every morning we were there, Sue and I played tennis before heading out to explore. Smoke from forest fires in the US hung in the air, but we visited the park anyway, and enjoyed lunch at the Prince of Wales Hotel.

In the afternoon we stepped aboard the historic M.V. International and cruised along the shoreline of beautiful Upper Waterton Lake, crossing the international border to Goat Haunt, Montana. It was definitely an eerie feeling as the boat plowed across the lake with the smoke-shrouded mountains all around us.

Throughout the fall I felt that my running was going well, so on October 24, I undertook my first serious race. Kirsten Fleming, race director of the Calgary Marathon, suggested I enter the 10-km Dash of Doom. This is a fancy-dress event, and Kirsten thought I should dress up as a doctor, to show the clot who was boss. I liked the idea, and Sue and I came up with my alter ego, Captain Clot-Buster. I lined up in my doctor’s scrubs, a Canada buff with two eye holes, and swimming goggles with the lenses removed. The race went well: I ran it in 51 minutes and 21 seconds. Not only was it a personal best for Captain Clot-Buster, but I also won second prize in the best-outfit category.

Two days later Sue showed me an article from the Guardian that would change the direction of my life. The story featured a female runner named Zainab. She had become the first Afghan woman to run a marathon, in the first ever Marathon of Afghanistan.

In the article, Zainab talked about her training. “The children were stoning us, the people said bad words like ‘prostitutes, why don’t you stay at home? You are destroying Islam.’” It got me thinking. We’re so lucky to live where we do. Every weekend, we can sign up for a race and the only thing holding us back is our desire to participate. In some countries this is not the case, particularly for women. I had heard about the same kind of discrimination in Benin, West Africa, when Heather Moyse and Caroline Ouellette (RTP Athlete Ambassadors) talked to the women’s national soccer team. The team members said they were treated like outcasts and freaks. After reading the article, I made a vow.

If I could recover in time, I would run the 2016 Marathon of Afghanistan and support Zainab’s efforts to show that sport is for everyone. In the following days, I contacted James Bingham, the race director, and James Wilcox from Untamed Borders, the trip organizer. The wheels were in motion. With a renewed focus, my running continued to go well. However, I was having some difficulty with my level of endurance. Some of the runs were tough to finish, and I didn’t have much motivation. I was looking for something to grab my imagination and propel me forward, and thanks to my friend Glenda, I found it.

The Vert180 was a ski mountaineering event scheduled to take place at Canadian Olympic Park (COP) on the evening of Saturday, December 5. The objective of this particular race was to complete as many loops as you could up and down the ski hill at COP, in three hours. For extra practice before the race, I did a clinic with Kylee Toth Ohler, one of Canada’s top “skimo” racers. For two hours, Kylee showed me how to: attach skins to the skis, adjust the bindings for climbing uphill, remove the skins and ski down, and strap the skis to a backpack for the March of Death section of the race.

The evening of the event was clear and –7°C. The hill was fully lit, and a group of 60 people lined up for the start. I had decided on my customary “slow and steady” approach, and when the gun went off, I let the majority of the group blaze ahead. I soon got into my stride, and we climbed the incline, one after the other, forming a snake of skiers.

At the top, I stripped the skins off the skis, clicked the bindings into downhill mode and skied down. My quads were burning as I entered the finishing chute, and it was time to do it all over again. Over the next three hours, I completed eight loops, only nine behind the eventual winning man and woman, who did 17 each. To further inspire myself, I tried my 60th sport: luge. It was my 60th birthday, and I felt up to the challenge. I found myself back at COP, lined up in the ice house with a group of nine- and ten-year-olds to get instructions.

It was pretty straightforward: point your toes and keep your head down. I waited ten minutes to take my turn, and then I climbed the stairs, sat on the luge and away I went. Heading into the first curve, it climbed up the bank. Then I was shot out into a straightaway and then into another curve. Before I knew it, the ride was over, and I was slowing up in the finish chute. It was exhilarating. I felt ready to tackle anything.

Before I could contemplate the next sport I wanted to try – pickleball – Sue and I had my stepson Calum over for Christmas. At first, he wasn’t sure if he should come because Sue’s mom, Terryanne, had just recently gone to the hospital, not feeling well. However, her condition didn’t appear to be critical, so he decided to make the trip. On December 23, a day after Calum arrived, Lynne called to say that Terryanne had passed away. Terryanne championed everything I did – she called me her “Brit with Grit.” Since her husband Eric had passed away in April, she had moved into a care home. She was a talented poet. I still love reading her poetry, and the following is one of my favourites:

  • The Winner Mane blown back on straining neck,
  • Eyes alight and nostrils wide,
  • Gallant steed, in gallop set, breathing hard with every stride.
  • Muscles taut with glistening sweat,
  • Thundering flight to vibrant ground,
  • Hooves and sinew meeting yet,
  • Limbs of steel, on new turf pound.
  • Spittled mouth, with swollen tongue,
  • Rushing blood, heart fit to burst, fiery surge to shatter lung,
  • Duty-bound to come in first.

It had been a really tough year for Sue, having to deal with the shock of my illness and losing both of her parents, all within a matter of months. Christmas was a sad time for us all. In early January, she and Calum travelled back to England for Terryanne’s funeral. On December 31, before they left, we all took part in the Sixth Annual Marathon Quest 250 Run/Walk, this time to raise $10,000 for a kindergarten playground in Mto wa Mbu, Tanzania.

With a total of 116 runners, we raised $4,970. Adding this to the amount raised online brought us up to $12,066. The kindergarten kids of Mto wa Mbu would get a playground, bouncy castle and some books to start a library. And I was thrilled to have completed my first and last marathon of 2015 in 5 hours, 16 minutes and 1 second.

In late February 2016 I returned to Winnipeg. Susanne, organizer of the Recreation Connections Manitoba conference, asked me to go back and finish what I had started, before my clot put the brakes on my speaking at her event. It was quite emotional, seeing her and Cory again and standing on the main stage of the Metropolitan Entertainment Centre in front of 300 people.

An hour later I received a standing ovation, and I was completely overwhelmed. In mid-April I had some good news about the clot. I went to see my specialist and he said that it had reduced by 95 per cent. He wanted me to have another CT scan in July and then he would decide whether or not he could take me off all my medications. My training had gone well for the Calgary Marathon, and at 7 a.m. on May 29, 2016, the gun went off and Captain Clot-Buster started his first official marathon race.

It was a warm day and all along the route people were shouting out their support. Sometimes they weren’t quite sure who I was: “Go Captain America!” “You’re almost there, Canada Man!” and “You’re looking good, Captain Blood-Clot!” were some of the words of encouragement. Still, it didn’t matter what they shouted out, it all helped me to finish with a time of 4:24:40.

I am a member of the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers, and at the monthly meeting in mid-March I got into a conversation with Kate McKenzie, who for seven years had been a junior high school teacher and is now an author, artist and documentary filmmaker. She had read Marathon Quest and was wondering what I had next on the horizon. I told her about the Marathon of Afghanistan. Kate was hooked. We had further conversations and plans started to develop to film a documentary of the race. Kate’s cousin Scott Townend is also a documentary filmmaker. He lives in Edmonton, and in early June we all met up at Kate’s place to shoot the trailer.

The story line is that I am training Kate to run her first marathon, and it will be in Afghanistan. In early July, the trailer, or “sizzle reel,” for the documentary was completed. It was now time to get funding for the film.

On October 26 Kate and I started our journey to Kubal, Afghanistan. The next two weeks would change our lives. We met a military veteran returning to find some peace, an Iranian determined to promote equality, a girl’s school with a passion for sports, a student unable to train because the Taliban had bombed her school and a teacher living and instructing out of a cave. All brought together by the belief that everyone should be free to run. The incredible story can be found in The Secret Marathon: Empowering Women and Girls in Afghanistan through Sport (2018), published by Rocky Mountain Books.

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If you have any comments, please email Martin. info@martinparnell.com



View The Ageless Athlete Documentary (18 minutes)

The Ageless Athlete
The Ageless Athlete (18 minutes)
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