Last Tuesday, Kirsten Fleming, executive director of Run Calgary, alerted her race participants that their medals probably wouldn’t arrive for race day. Despite being ordered in January, supply chain issues kept the medals on a vessel around Vancouver for a month and, by the time the ship docked, the line for unloading the cargo placed delivery odds on reaching Calgary at one percent.
People were happy to have in-person races return. But to run a race with no medal?
Runners understand supply chain issues and runners also empathize with the difficulties that goes into hosting a major event—especially given the labour crisis and additional work that goes into doing anything around COVID. But. . . runners really, really want their medals, which they’ve worked so hard to earn. And thus it was a personal quest for all sorts of people and all sorts of companies—including Global Container Terminals Canada, Leslie Jordan and WestJet, the Canadian airline with a steep running culture and where Sarah Barton, a WestJet employee and longtime Calgary Marathon volunteer, was determined to win the race to get the medals to the finish line.
Together, the team got it done and Fleming, one of the brightest lights and deepest souls of our sport, called the entire episode A Medal Miracle.
“I am so overwhelmed with gratitude and finding it difficult to wrap my head around how many people, who have nothing to do with the race, went above and beyond,” she said.
Canada’s longest-running marathon was held on Sunday and, in addition to Scott Cooper winning the 50K Ultra and Emily James winning the half, every other runner who participated in any other event, also received their medals. Fleming, standing at her finish line handing out medals, shed tears of joy.
“I teared up a lot this race day, but they were tears of joy. There were some not-so-happy tears shed in the privacy of my car last week when I thought the medals weren’t making it,” she says. “It was out of frustration and disappointment for the participants and for our team—we work so hard and then not to have the medals, which is a pretty major part of the finishing experience.”
Like her runners, Fleming didn’t give up. She said this year’s race was a memory she will never forget.
“Our team, including the board, try to be at the finish line when the last people are coming in. The participants who’ve been out more than six hours need the most hype when they cross the line, and giving those people their medals is so special because they often did something they thought wasn’t in their reach,” Fleming says. “The kid’s marathon is also so fun. Watching the kids get their first medal and seeing them so proud, we hope that over time that seed grows into a healthy, active lifestyle into adulthood.”
Photographs by Dave Holland, courtesy of Calgary Marathon.