The Abel family celebrated their late grandfather’s 99th birthday by participating in the Sun Run
Forty-three thousand three hundred runners turned out under cloudy skies Sunday for the 35th annual Vancouver Sun Run, but one runner was missing.
George Abel, who crossed the finish line 17 times in his life, would have celebrated his 99th birthday on Sunday, did not pass the archway of balloons at the finish line on Griffiths Way.
Abel, who died last year, counted the Sun Run as an annual event that tied in his love of family, community and healthy activity. In 2015 he told Postmedia that “I think walking is just about the best thing there is.”
So three generations of his family came out in force on Sunday to walk the 2.5 K Mini Sun Run in his honour and celebrate the legacy of the senior who loved to stroll Vancouver’s city streets — especially when other people were doing it too.
“We had planned to do this on his 100th birthday,” said his granddaughter Kristy, “but when I went to register and saw that this year’s Sun Run fell on his actual birthday it was like a sign that we should do it this year.”
Abel probably would have called the coincidence a bit of good luck — he considered himself a pretty lucky guy.
In 2015, at 95, Abel was the eldest participant in the Sun Run and won his age category, then repeated the feat in 2016. The former truck driver didn’t just walk the Sun Run every year, he completed daily 35-minute circuits of his Collingwood neighbourhood and touted the health benefits of walking to whoever walked with him.
It’s an enthusiasm the whole family found infectious, so when other runners might have been carb-loading or getting in some stretching the night before the run, granddaughter Kristy was putting together buttons that featured Abel’s smiling face for the whole family to wear.
His youngest son Colin Abel, 67, who walked alongside his twin sister Janet, said that although in his younger days he once ran the race in 37 minutes, he often walked the Sun Run with his dad.
“It felt really good,” said Colin, who sported one of his father’s participation medals. “He’d be thrilled.”
The Abels completed the Mini Sun Run under cloudy skies, before a brief but intense hailstorm hit runners on the 10 K route around 10:30 a.m.
Two local runners took the titles in the elite divisions, and finished well ahead of the hail that struck the thousands who followed.
Justin Kent, of Burnaby, won the men’s race in 29 minutes and 30 seconds. Natasha Wodak, of North Vancouver, took the women’s crown in 32:38. Balraj Zimich won the 10k wheelchair in 31:39.
Plenty of runners celebrated the event by running in costumes: hotdogs, bananas, top hats, tuxedos, and even firefighters in uniform.