Cook Street Village resident Keith Ashton and his team will start their fundraiser half marathon run at this point on the Lochside Trail in Central Saanich. The May 1 run winds up at the Terry Fox statue at the foot of Douglas Street in Victoria. (Photo courtesy Connie Robertson)

Cook Street Village resident Keith Ashton and his team will start their fundraiser half marathon run at this point on the Lochside Trail in Central Saanich. The May 1 run winds up at the Terry Fox statue at the foot of Douglas Street in Victoria. (Photo courtesy Connie Robertson)

Victoria COVID-19 survivor running half marathon to give back

Keith Ashton, 81, raising funds for equipment, gives kudos to frontline health care workers

Twice in a span of seven months last year, Keith Ashton experienced health issues serious enough to end his running days.

When the 81-year-old Victoria resident tackles a half marathon fundraiser run on May 1, however, he’ll be thinking less about how he survived COVID-19 last spring and a heart incident in late November and more about simply enjoying getting to the finish line.

“It’s starting to come up now and it becomes your main focus,” said Ashton, who ran the 2019 GoodLife Fitness Victoria Marathon and was rated among the top runners in his age group in Canada. “It is exciting, but we’ll see how it goes.”

Training with his group aptly nicknamed Happy Feet, he’s been running 26 and 27 kilometres to be ready for the 21K route. It begins on the Lochside Trail in Central Saanich, winds through his neighbourhood in Fairfield and ends at the Terry Fox memorial on Dallas Road.

Victoria runner Keith Ashton is all smiles after finishing a past Oak Bay half marathon. (Photo courtesy Connie Robertson)

Ashton is doing this event for a couple of reasons. Firstly, he’s an avid competitive runner who loves to challenge himself and wants to prove he can do it, especially after surviving COVID-19 and stent surgery to help his heart. He also wants to give back to the medical community that helped him.

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Keith’s Run with the Rabbit, his fundraiser at justgiving.com, will benefit the Victoria Hospital Foundation, specifically the high acuity units that support patients going from emergency to intensive care.

“When I was in hospital I was very very well looked after; I can’t speak highly enough about the care I received,” he said. “I think many people don’t have an awareness of how hard the people in hospital are working.”

While the heart incident required a routine procedure, COVID-19 knocked him flat.

“I’ve never seen him that sick, it was quite a shock,” said Ashton’s wife Andrea, grateful he managed to avoid the ICU and a ventilator.

Ashton flew home from the U.K. in mid-March, a trip that included a short flight from Vancouver, along with dentists returning from a conference believed to be one of B.C.’s first superspreader events. It took three weeks and two trips to the ER for Ashton to get tested for the virus, after which he spent weeks recovering.

“You get a lot of complacency about COVID,” he said, speaking to those who downplay its seriousness. “If you get this thing, you don’t want to get it again, assuming you recover.”

Among his health care providers last year, three doctors also happened to be avid runners. Not only did they provide quality care, Ashton said, they understood his desire to get running again. “That was my main concern, really … I think they sensed my anxiety on it.”

ALSO READ: Terry Fox’s legacy of resilience resonates during COVID-19 crisis, says brother

The doctor who discharged him last spring told him, “don’t push it, take it easy, go slow getting back into it.”

“Being patient isn’t one of my strong points, especially with myself,” Ashton said.

His cardiologist, Dr. Bilal Iqbal, advised him to limit himself to a half marathon this time and work his way back to full distance. Ashton, who has been running for decades is willing to heed the expert advice.

“The old expression, this is a marathon not a sprint really is true in this case,” he said with a chuckle.


 

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