Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

He walks the talk, and he does it early

Marathon tortoise gives himself a head start

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OK, which would you like first?

The news that will make you smile -- sorry, no laughs today -- or the story that brought tears to my eyes when I read it.

Actually, you can decide for yourself.

I'll leave the sad one until the end.

* * *

HOW WOULD YOU LIKE TO WALK A MILE IN HIS SHOES?... Sunday is the 25th anniversary of the Manitoba Marathon, which is one of the reasons Birgit Hartel wanted to share her husband's story.

Norman Grywinski has a unique distinction among marathon competitors.

He has competed in 20 of 'em.

What's so unique about that?

Nothing, but you didn't let me finish.

He's walked them all.

Grywinski has walked rather than run because he's been the victim of seven rear-end collisions in two years, which would be enough to start anyone walking.

In the course of completing the 26-mile course, the 62-year-old River East-Transcona School Division administrator has acquired another distinction.

He starts two hours before everyone else -- around 5 a.m. -- to get a head start on the race. He needs it.

The former teacher and principal -- who's retiring this month -- learned that lesson the hard way the first year he competed back in the late 1970s.

By the time he had reached the halfway mark of his six-and-a-half-hour trek, Grywinski began passing water stations that weren't there any more.

"In order to sustain myself," he recalled, "I was picking ice off their lawns when they were dismantling their tables. So that's how I kept myself going for the first one."

After finishing with two feet covered in blisters, Grywinski said, "Never again."

But two years later, he was back.

"Last year," his wife wrote, "I was likely the proudest -- and loudest -- spectator as I watched him again come across the finish line, Tilly hat in hand, waving madly to all in the stands."

But there's something else that just might make Grywinski, the career educator, even prouder than being the only tortoise in a field of thousands of rabbits.

He has personally raised, through annual pledges from friends and colleagues, between $8,000 and $10,000 for the mentally challenged.

Which is why I wasn't surprised when his wife mentioned what he wants the school division to do with his retirement gift.

Give the money, instead, to the Manitoba Marathon.

OK, you can smile now.

* * *

WHO SAID THERE'S NO SUCH THING AS A FREE LUNCH?... Tuxedo Village Family Restaurant owner George Papaioannou was all excited yesterday.

Business at his Corydon Avenue restaurant -- with the help of loyal regulars and even more new patrons -- is gradually recovering from an April hepatitis A outbreak that was traced back to the restaurant.

But one of his regulars has done something that goes above and beyond being loyal.

She bought $400 worth of $10 gift certificates. And told George to hand them out as "surprise thank-yous" to new and old customers alike.

So that's what he'll be doing on a random basis this Friday and Saturday, while the gift certificates last.

The woman, who e-mailed me last weekend with the idea, asked to remain anonymous to everyone, including George.

And so she will be.

Bless her generous and thoughtful heart.

* * *

THE WAGGING TALE END... This is the e-mail that got me choked up.

"Dear Mr. Sinclair;

"Fourteen years ago, my husband and I fetched home from the Winnipeg airport a nine-week-old golden retriever puppy who was subsequently named Piper.

"Like everyone else's pet, she was universally loved and admired for her charm, her brains, and her unquenchable good humour... Every evening, for all of her life, before bed, whoever was at home, and whoever was visiting, would hug Piper "goodnight" before retiring.

"This was a family ritual sustained until the day we had to put her down, last Monday.

"Into the pouring, cold rain of that day, I stood shivering and crying outside the Corydon Animal Clinic when I felt a pair of warm, strong arms enfolding me, and a strange voice saying into my ear, "My dear, you need a hug."

"I write this letter to say a heartfelt "thank you" to that perfectly lovely stranger... And "thank you" my lovely Piper."


Patti Malchy

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 12, 2003 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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