Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Marathon remembers Robertson

First run since death of race's founding father

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Dale Kendel and Shirley Lumb share a laugh at the Manitoba Marathon luncheon on Friday. Kendel is one of the marathon�s co-founders and Lumb has been the race�s executive director for 22 years.

SARAH TAYLOR / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Dale Kendel and Shirley Lumb share a laugh at the Manitoba Marathon luncheon on Friday. Kendel is one of the marathon�s co-founders and Lumb has been the race�s executive director for 22 years. Photo Store

The Manitoba Marathon will fan out across Winnipeg Sunday morning, some 13,000 runners cooled perhaps by forecasted clouds and clattering rain.

If the breeze tastes bittersweet -- well, yes, there could be some of that too.

This is the 36th year Manitobans have run the marathon. It is the first without John Robertson, the iconic journalist who helped found the event and cheered it along the first 35 years.

He died at a Gimil care home in January, at 79.

Even through the fading health of his recent years, Robertson always seemed knit into the fabric of the marathon. His spirit always buoyed it and he will be missed. "He's always been the biggest supporter over the years," said marathon executive director Shirley Lumb. "It's kind of surreal that he's not here anymore. It just doesn't seem possible... it's bittersweet."

What better way to honour Robertson, then, than by marking once again the charitable tradition he helped build. In the first 35 years, runners and supporters raised over $5.25 million for the Manitoba Marathon Foundation, which aims to support people living with intellectual disabilities.

That money has supported more than 550 projects and helped 12 people with an intellectual disability move into their own home last year.

This has always been a key part of the marathon's life, and another testament to Robertson's legacy.

In 1978, Robertson -- then a CBC TV news host in Winnipeg -- was moved to action after a deadly fire at the Manitoba Developmental Centre, then an institution for people with intellectual disabilities.

The same year, he was inspired by seeing two friends run the Boston Marathon. An idea began to take shape, and soon he was working with a small group of fellow visionaries to launch a fundraising race.

"He just had such a passion for this event and passion for the people that we were working with," recalled Dale Kendel, the longtime executive director of the Association for Community Living Manitoba who retired in 2009.

"When I met John, he was trying to figure out how to blend the work we wanted to do, with the things that we could put in place. And it was just a wonderful combination to do that for so many years."

Now, the marathon is giving that charity mandate an even wider spread. This year, the event is unveiling its 26 For 26 program, which allows marathon runners to choose one of 10 partners they'd like their donation to support.

Those include the marathon's own foundation, Community Living Selkirk, DASCH, Easter Seals Manitoba, the Mood Disorders Association of Manitoba and more.

As for the marathon's 2014 theme -- "Take Them Out For A Good Time" -- well, Robertson would surely have seen himself in that as well.

"John was a fun-loving guy," said Lumb, who is celebrating her 30th year as a Manitoba Marathon employee, 22 of those in the top job.

"He really had a wicked sense of humour, a real wit about him. He wasn't afraid to ask for things, try things, whatever. He was truly one of the blocks that the marathon is founded on."

melissa.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 14, 2014 C5

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