Despite odds, daughter, dad to realize marathon dream

Haley Walker and dad Ken Walker at the finish line of the 2018 Chicago Marathon – seconds after learning Haley had qualified for the Boston Marathon. Submitted Photo

Troy Shantz

A Sarnia woman isn’t letting the cancellation of North America’s oldest marathon stop her from crossing the finish line with her father at her side.

Haley Walker and father Ken Walker intend to complete the “virtual” Boston Marathon on Sept. 8 by running the 42-kilometre distance from Corunna to Sarnia to Bright’s Grove.

“It’s made me realize it’s not about doing this specific race, it’s about spending the time with my dad,” said Walker, 29, an engineer at Imperial Oil

Daughter and father — a seasoned marathoner and triathlete himself — qualified for Boston at the 2018 Chicago Marathon, on Ken’s 60th birthday.

But the celebration was short lived. Three weeks later Ken learned he had Stage 4 prostate cancer.

Life-prolonging treatments are available, but it’s a terminal cancer with a 50%, five-year survival rate, Haley Walker noted on Facebook.

Ken Walker, a family doctor with a practice in Forest, has completed 89 marathons over 30 years and run the Boston Marathon 10 times. He is currently undergoing treatment, and for the virtual marathon will join his daughter on his bike, she said.

The diagnosis spurred Haley to fundraise for prostate cancer research. She set a target of $2,020, to mark the year. At press time donations exceeded $11,000, more than five times the original goal.

“I’m blown away,” she said.

When Boston Marathon organizers scrapped the 124-year-old event because of COVID-19 they offered qualifiers a chance to run it on their own.

The Walkers’ route is verified by the leader of her local running club, as well as her GPS watch, which will track each kilometre. Runners can download a Boston Marathon app to verify results, she said.

The route will take them from Corunna to the Blue Water Bridge in Point Edward before heading to Bright’s Grove on the Howard Watson Nature Trail. It also passes the St. John in the Wilderness Church, honouring Ken and wife Deb Walkers’ long-time involvement with the Bluewater Triathlon.

Friends have committed to setting up water stations along the way, Haley Walker added.

“Even though we can’t go to Boston we will still be able to have the community with us,” she said.

“Definitely, when I’m running, I get a little emotional about it. I feel like I’m going to accomplish this goal regardless of all the obstacles that have been thrown in our way.”

To support the fundraiser, visit https://support.cancer.ca/site/TR/IFE_ON_Event/IFE_ON_General_?px=13443288&pg=personal&fr_id=27159