Across the 'Wack and back for Terry Fox

Iain Gardner, vice principal at Strathcona elementary, is running a marathon on Nov. 4.  - JENNA HAUCK/ PROGRESS
Iain Gardner, vice principal at Strathcona elementary, is running a marathon on Nov. 4.
— image credit: JENNA HAUCK/ PROGRESS

Iain Gardner has run marathons before, but none like the one he's about to embark upon.

This marathon isn't a well renowned run, it isn't a destination run, it isn't rife with hard fought hills, in fact, there will only be one, and it isn't a run he expects to achieve a personal best in.

And yet, it may very well be the running achievement of a lifetime.

On Nov. 4, Gardner will be running Across the 'Wack and Back, a self-designed course he's doing in response to his students fundraising efforts for the school's Terry Fox Run last month.

Strathcona elementary's vice principal challenged his school to raise $2,500, $600 more than last year's fundraising best. If they met the challenge, he'd run a marathon.

The school raised $2,504.99.

"It was really impressive to see some of the individual efforts our students made to raise this money," said Gardner.

"They did something great, they put themselves out there to reach this goal; [the incentive] had to be somewhat painful for me… a physical sacrifice."

It's not the first time Gardner has given his students incentives in the name of Terry Fox. His first year at the school, two years ago, he challenged the students to raise $1,000 to which he would then shave his beard.

They raised $1,200.

Last year, he upped the ante. He challenged them to raise $1,500 in which he would then reward them with a half marathon effort – 15 laps around the Fairfield Island loop.

They raised $1,900.

It wasn't the most physically exerting half marathon he'd done, but it was mentally draining running the same lap over and over. But in the end, his students gave him the greatest reward of hoots and hollers upon his return into the school.

His goal with the marathon this year is to have a similar finishing experience.

"I want to be back at the school by 2:15," said Gardner. "I chose to do the marathon specifically during the school day, rather then an organized event, because if they see me from beginning to end, they'll see the follow through, they'll see I'm tired, that it was a hard day's work. It will be more tangible for them."

The fact this year marked the 33rd anniversary since Terry Fox's Marathon of Hope in 1980, and that Strathcona elementary is in School District 33, and that several members of the Fox family live in Chilliwack, was not lost on Gardner.

"It all just seemed rather poetic," he said.

Gardner was 10 years old when Fox ran the Marathon of Hope. Images he saw were never forgotten.

"It's so hard to find a really good hero, a role model you can truly hold up," said Gardner.

But Fox's character has stood the test of time.

"As educators, we have a greater responsibility to keep his story going and to make the connection for kids," said Gardner. "It's not just about raising money, it's about giving kids something they can connect to."

Across the 'Wack and Back will start and finish at Strathcona elementary and will cover the areas of nearly every school in the district. Some principals and other school staff, as well as the district's assistant superintendent Rohan Arul-Pragasam have agreed to join Gardner at different points in the marathon.

Some schools may even get a group of students out for a portion of the run.

Gardner is researching online apps that would enable his student body to track his progress through the day.

The vice principal's personal best for a marathon is 3:53:00, but given his admittedly sporadic training, he's not banking on another PB for this fairly flat route.

"I'll be happy to get here by the end of the day," he said.

As will his students.

Across the 'Wack and Back marathon is on Nov. 4 starting at 8:45 a.m. at Strathcona elementary.

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