Still friends, but not neighbours: saying goodbye to Doug Alward

I recently had to say goodbye to one of my close friends. Doug has been a challenging training partner and a loyal friend to me for over 20 years. He has moved to Penticton where his father and many other family members live, leaving the Port Coquitlam area that was home for most of his 60 years.

Doug Alward and I met as members of the Phoenix Running Club sometime in the late 1990s. At that time we were both “young” masters runners. Doug has been a serious competitive runner since his high school days. He never quite broke through to become an elite athlete but he has always followed the exploits of the best runners, both local and international, with great interest.

The Marathon of Hope

Those of my readers who recognize Doug’s name know that his life has been shaped by a singular accomplishment that was related to running. Though he didn’t break any Canadian or world records, Doug’s accomplishment required character traits and a level of sacrifice that few of us could muster. Doug accompanied Terry Fox, his best friend, on Terry’s Marathon of Hope in 1980. Terry’s dream was to run all the way across Canada to raise money for cancer research. He ran almost a marathon a day, for 143 days—with a prosthetic leg replacing the one he had lost to cancer as a teenager. Doug was Terry’s constant companion and the driver of their van (the two were joined later in the Marathon of Hope by Terry’s brother Darrell).

Their journey began on April 12, 1980, at the harbour in St. John’s, Newfoundland. The early stages of the trip were lonely, the early spring weather in Newfoundland raw and inhospitable. But by the time they reached Ontario, support for Terry’s mission was snowballing (an inappropriate word choice considering he was now running through sweltering summer heat in southern Ontario!).

Canada mourned when Terry was forced to end his run near Thunder Bay, Ontario on September 1, 1980. The cancer had recurred in his lungs.

Terry died at age 22 on June 28, 1981, but his feat of courage and endurance has made him one of Canada’s best-known heroes. To date, the Terry Fox Foundation has raised over $360 million dollars for cancer research. Terry Fox runs are held every September in over 4,000 communities across Canada, and in almost 25 countries all over the world. Terry’s initial goal was to raise funds for cancer research to the tune of $1 for every Canadian. He could never have dreamed how huge his legacy would become. Not only that, Terry forever changed people’s attitudes towards the disabled. He proved that a disabled athlete could be a great athlete—by anyone’s definition—and he exemplified the power of  following one’s convictions with unrelenting mental toughness.

***

Doug has always been modest about his own contribution to the Marathon of Hope. The full story is his to tell, not mine. But over the years Doug has told me enough understated and funny anecdotes about the trip to make me realize that the Marathon of Hope succeeded not only because of Terry’s drive and courage, but because of Doug’s (and later Darrell’s) patience and endurance as they coped with Terry’s moods, physical needs, and the sheer boredom and discomfort of endless weeks in the van.

Doug put his own life (including his running) on hold to make the realization of his friend’s dream possible.

Doug spent all his working years as a psychiatric orderly at Riverview Hospital. He once told me he regretted not getting a nursing degree. He seldom mentioned his job. During workouts we talked almost exclusively about our training and racing. Doug also had a keen interest in up-and-coming runners, and went to watch local promising athletes race whenever he could.

Doug trained liked a maniac. Although he had great respect and affection for our coach, George Gluppe, Doug was basically uncoachable because he insisted on doing his own thing and trained harder than anyone else in our club. He came to our workouts once or twice a week but also ran many extra workouts and miles on his own.

My clearest memories of training with Doug are from the winter of 2004–2005. At that time I was 45 and he had just turned 47. We were both very fit and pretty well matched in training. I was trying to set new road race records in the women’s 45–49 category. Doug, at that time, was more competitive in his age group than he had ever been. We decided that we would get together at least once a week outside of the club’s Saturday morning workouts.

That was the most brutal winter of training I can remember! Doug had no fear of pain. We pushed each other relentlessly in our Mundy Park workouts. We mostly ran long repeats, anywhere from 1,200m to 3K. Doug was a heavy breather. We’d be one or two minutes into a 3K repeat and he would sound like he was about to die. In contrast, my breathing was relaxed, but as the anaerobic effort mounted and my legs started weakening, I just couldn’t shake him. Each repeat felt like a race. We were never more than a few seconds apart.

I have to admit that I started dreading running with Doug. But our hard work paid off. In February I ran 1:18:59 in the First Half (on three running workouts a week). At the end of April, we were both in Victoria for the Times-Colonist 10K. I was second to Leah Pells (who ran a great 33:30 or so in one of her few masters races, at age 40), finishing in 35:08 for a Canadian masters 10K road best in the 45–49 age category. Doug was pleased to run about 34:30.

Fame, fundraising, and being an introvert

Doug’s  life since the Marathon of Hope has had to be balanced on his continued role in supporting Terry’s legacy, and his natural tendency to be a private (and in some ways an eccentric) individual. He is still friends with Darrell Fox. Over the years Doug has often been forced out of his comfort zone to attend public events honouring Terry. He has given talks to children at many schools and he participates in Terry Fox runs every year.

He has also been a valuable resource for people creating movies and books relating Terry’s story (such as the television biopic Terry [2005], and the young adult book Run, by Eric Walters [2003]). Doug also wrote a chapter for the book Running in the Zone: A Handbook for Seasoned Athletes (2006), co-edited by world-famous running/triathlon announcer Steve King and “seasoned” runner and coach Dan Cumming.

As Doug’s friend, I’ve been able to see and chuckle about sides of his personality that the public wouldn’t know about. For years he carried an umbrella with him during all our Mundy Park workouts: he was ready to defend himself against unruly or dangerous off-leash dogs. I’ve listened to his earnest concern about being “fat” during times when he was forced to cut back his training due to injury. I’ve seen him follow a Spartan diet most of the time only to despair after some mild binge-eating incident.

Doug is a devout Christian but he never preaches to anyone. He confided in me about his beliefs a few times when he sensed I was receptive. I remember an extraordinary race he had when we went to Vancouver Island to race the Pioneer 8K in 2009. Doug and I had been right together in workouts that winter, but on that day he beat me with a 28:02 (an all-time PB for him, at age 51!) while I ran 29:11. He told me afterwards that he attributed his astonishing performance to the spirit of our running friend Dave Reed, who had been with him, Doug said, in that race. Dave had passed away only a couple of months before that, a too-young 54 years of age, after contracting a serious infection that was diagnosed too late to be treated effectively.

Gearing down

After I tore my ACL in 2009, I could never run at the same level again so Doug and I rarely trained together. He suffered from serious injuries at times, too, which I considered inevitable given the fanaticism of his training. When he managed to string a few months of consistent training together, he achieved some impressive age-group performances, including a 2:45 marathon at age 50. Many were the times when, injured or exhausted, he assured me that he was “retiring” from running forever. But then he always found a new goal to strive for.

When retirement from his “real” job came, he bought a house high on a mountain above Chilliwack and lived there for a couple of years. He had wicked rolling hills to train on and often rode his bike several kilometres down the mountain into Chilliwack for groceries, doing the arduous climb back up with his bike heavily loaded.

DougEatingBeforeTrack

Doug fuelling up for a track workout in Chilliwack, 2015.

In the summer of 2016 I visited Doug in Chilliwack for a couple of days. We spent those days doing brutal bike rides and hikes followed by hours of watching the Olympics. I barely survived his Spartan diet of beans, oatmeal, eggs, vegetables, and fruit, all unadorned except for spices. The almonds saved me. (I wrote about my Chilliwack visit in my post “Cycling on Doug’s Mountain“.)

DougNancyMtThomSummitAdj.jpg

Doug and I at the summit of Mt. Thom above Chilliwack in 2016.

Doug always helped and encouraged others with their training, especially young runners. He was unfailingly modest about his own achievements. I remember him for small acts of kindness, like the way he used to give our coach George small bags of homemade baked goodies every year at Christmas.

Doug visited his parents, siblings, and other members of his extended family in Penticton regularly. He seemed uninterested in having a family of his own. Doug’s club teammates were quite intrigued when he got a girlfriend. He seemed happy in that relationship for several years. However, after it ended he confided to me that he and his girlfriend had both been too old and “set in their ways” to be able to stay together as a couple and make the necessary compromises.

Never the last comeback

Doug’s latest running comeback started in the summer of 2017 after he had been sidelined for over a year by a serious foot injury. For a couple of months, before he was very fit, I could do the occasional workout with him in Mundy Park. But he was soon eclipsing me by far. In February he was pleased to run 1:28:16  in the First Half Half Marathon, a good start to his racing in the 60–64 age group. We got together soon after that for a short Mundy Park workout. We did a couple of 2K loops but Doug had to give me a big lead on each of them. Chasing me gained him fast times, at least!

But his heavy training caught up with him yet again, just as he was poised to run a fast Sun Run. His foot started hurting in the way he knew well from his previous injury (though this time it was the other foot). He figured he had a stress fracture and didn’t even bother getting confirmation. He raced the Sun Run a couple of weeks later, despite being in terrible pain, and ran 38:51. After that he knew he would have to stop running again, probably for months.

Finally . . . an easy workout

Doug and I got together about four days before he was planning to leave for Penticton. His foot was still too sore to run, so we just did a bike ride on the PoCo Trail. It was an unusually cold day for June, and rain was threatening. We were both wearing several layers of clothing, and Doug even had long track pants on.

After countless workouts together, this last one was unlike any other workout we had ever done. It was an easy ride. We rode side by side whenever we could, so we could carry on a conversation. After an hour or so of riding we reached the playground at one of the trail exits, where I would leave Doug to ride the few kilometres back to my apartment. We sat down on a bench and Doug entertained me with stories about his insider’s knowledge of the local real estate market and some of his wily negotiations.

I finally had to say goodbye because I was too chilled to remain inactive any longer. I hate long goodbyes, anyway. They are too painful.

DougNancyCanadaMitt.jpg

Doug and I after an easy ride on a cold June day.

I will miss Doug’s presence in my neighbourhood, even though we have trained together only occasionally for many years. It’s significant to me that we have been together on a journey of becoming older, and gradually accepting what we must accept, however grudgingly.

In Doug I recognized a kindred spirit who insisted on giving 100% when he showed himself in the public arena of racing. I recognized someone who demanded excellence of himself and trained beyond common sense in trying to achieve it.

We both rebelled against the limitations of age, but ultimately we submitted by adjusting our goals and finding comfort in age-group placings and the percentages of the age-graded tables.

I know Doug and I share each other’s sadness sometimes. I felt terribly disappointed for him when he got his foot stress fracture after training so hard during all the hostile winter months, the dark mornings at the track, the cold and rainy days. In turn, he must find me pitiful to watch as a runner now—he can remember when I didn’t run with a limp or have to stutter-step downhill because of my knee.

Doug would have understood why I was bitterly disappointed to run 21:01 in the Longest Day 5K when my “A” goal was sub-20:00 and my “B” goal was sub-20:30. I even missed my “sure-thing C goal” of sub-21:00. Doug would have known that these are not small differences. Only a kindred running spirit like him could see my disappointment, perplexity, and frustration as “normal.”

Terry and Doug at the Scarborough Town Centre

Almost thirty-eight years ago, I read in the newspaper, or maybe even heard on the radio, that “that amputee guy running all the way across Canada” would be at the Scarborough Town Centre, a few kilometres from my parents’ house. It was the summer of 1980. I was already a serious competitive runner and had been on a couple of Canadian teams in cross country and track, but this summer I had a knee injury and couldn’t compete.

I could so easily have jumped on my bike or taken a bus and been at the Scarborough Town Centre in about fifteen minutes. It baffles me now that I had so little interest in Terry’s amazing achievement.

It gives me a strange feeling to think that I could have seen or met Doug Alward as a 22-year-old: a young man who was unaware that he was creating his own destiny, that his best friend Terry Fox was making history.

 

 

About nancytinarirunswrites

I used to be known as a competitive runner, but now I have a new life as a professional writer and editor. I'm even more obsessive about reading, writing, and editing than I was about running. Running has had a huge influence on my life, though, and runner's high does fuel creativity. Maybe that's why this blog evolved into being 95% about running, but through blogging I'm also learning about writing and online communication. I'm fascinated by how the Internet has changed work, learning, and relationships. I love to connect in new and random ways!
This entry was posted in Injuries and Getting Older, Personal stories, Relationships, Running and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Still friends, but not neighbours: saying goodbye to Doug Alward

  1. Chris Garrett-Petts says:

    Doug Aylward sounded like he was one solid training partner and friend. He most likely thinks the same for you.

  2. Chris Garrett-Petts says:

    Oops misspelt Doug’s surname, apologies. Alward!

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