Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Marathon founder sparked boom

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John Robertson hands out medals at the finish line of the 2002 Manitoba Marathon.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Enlarge Image

John Robertson hands out medals at the finish line of the 2002 Manitoba Marathon. Photo Store

Every so often, our communities are shaped by someone who creates something out of nothing, with a creative spark and an unbridled passion that can galvanize thousands, or even an entire community.

John Robertson did that in 1978. He ran the Boston Marathon and brought his love of that event back to Winnipeg, combining it with a new-found passion for community living for people with mental illness after a horrific fire at the Manitoba Developmental Centre.

From this came the first Manitoba Marathon in 1979. I was one of 4,500 runners at that first marathon, undertrained but young and stubborn, caught up in his zeal and with a full pledge sheet. Somehow I made it to the finish line in the old Winnipeg Stadium, the first of many for me.

In that small act, John brought the full force of the running boom to Manitoba, and to me personally. Being hugged by a good friend at that 1979 finish line ("It's OK, Allan, you can stop running now"), I found my way into the volunteer world of the running community, and eventually to the position of race director from 1984 to 1989 -- perhaps the best "job" I've ever had.

I got to know John over those years, and even as his health started to fail, he could be counted on as a volunteer at the finish line with his wife, Betty, draping medals over the necks of proud, exhausted and grateful full-marathon finishers.

John loved how the event grew and evolved to reach out into schools and families while keeping in touch with its roots -- the support for community living and the importance of standing up for those who were yet to discover their own voices.

John's legacy, from that small and extraordinary spark, will always live on. We owe him so much.

ALLAN FINKEL

Winnipeg

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 29, 2014 A9

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