Running to pay tribute to others

The inspiration for the biggest team in this year’s Times Colonist 10K was a Grade 3 student named Tiernan Dowling.

When he was recently diagnosed with cancer, the 155 fellow students, teachers and parents from Hillcrest Elementary School taking part in the Thrifty Foods Family Run decided to change their name to Team Tiernan, and have since been raising money to help with whatever expenses may arise for his family.

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Hillcrest was also the biggest team in last year’s TC 10K with 146 participants.

“Our students are a caring group of kids and they’ve been really touched by what’s been going on,” said Hillcrest principal Carmen Gauvreau.

Everyone on the team is eager to help, Gauvreau said.

“It’s a unique situation that Tiernan’s diagnosis came not very long ago. The fact that we’re able to contribute and have the opportunity to all work together and support the family is obviously something we all want.”

There was hope that Tiernan would be able to come and watch, but he wasn’t well enough and stayed in hospital in Vancouver. His mother, Michelle, said from Vancouver that it is wonderful to see the school rally behind Tiernan.

“In these difficult times it has been very meaningful to maintain his connections to school and friends,” she said.

Another team with a special impetus was the 23-person group representing the Help Fill a Dream Foundation, which makes wishes come true for young people with life-threatening conditions. Among the team members were five past recipients of dreams from the organization, with one lining up for the 10K and four taking part in the Thrifty Foods run.

That included 11-year-old Emma Smith, who has cancer in her brain and spine, and had her wish granted to go to Hawaii to see a volcano, eat at a luau and relax on the beach. She took on the Thrifty Foods event in her wheelchair, accompanied by her mom, dad and brother.

The captain of the team was Jerry Hughes, who has become an avid runner since his dream of going to Disneyland was filled in 1995.

The 36-year-old was able to set a personal-best 10K time of 37:53 before taking his children, aged two and four, in the family run. Hughes has excelled in running despite a rare genetic disorder called Gardner syndrome that led to surgeries when he was younger.

The condition can lead to polyps in the stomach and various organs, and increases the risk of some cancers.

Running has helped him in many ways, like building confidence, Hughes said. He said he runs with a purpose, especially to show his kids -- who have a 50-50 chance of getting Gardner syndrome -- that nothing has to get in their way in life.

“I’m trying to show everybody with a genetic disorder or a rare disease, something that is not known, that they really can do anything that they want.”

Steve Farmer lined up for his third TC 10K since a 2005 liver transplant, hoping to run a time of 58 minutes -- to match his age. He ended up finishing in just under an hour.

Farmer’s transplant came after a surprise diagnosis of hepatitis C, and spurred him to turn around his life and become much more active. He had run a little bit previously and played lacrosse and soccer as a youth, but as an adult he said he was “pretty much a couch potato.”

“I was in such bad shape. It just kind of started from there.”

Farmer eased back into activity by following a program aimed at people wanting to exercise after surgery. He said his routine progressed to include some swimming and cycling, as well as running. Now along with three TC 10Ks, he has also completed three half-marathons and five triathlons.

Farmer said he his happy to be able to pursue his athletic goals

“It takes work,” he said. “It just doesn’t happen by itself.”

The TC 10K is a fun occasion, Farmer said.

“Somebody said it’s more like a festival than a run.”

He said taking part also allows him to express his support for B.C. Transplant and to promote the value of registering to be an organ donor.

Several people chose to dress up for their run, with everything from a gorilla to a giant marijuana leaf out on the course. Falk Wagenbach completed the 10K route in full firefighter’s gear weighing from five to six kilograms.

He said he ran to honour his late wife, his new partner, the East Sooke Fire Department and “this wonderful country, Canada.”

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