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Servus Calgary Marathon celebrating 60th anniversary

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The 2024 Servus Calgary Marathon is the longest running marathon in Canada and takes place Sunday, May 26th. It is sold out with 13,600 participants ranging in age from just 11 months to 88 years old.

It's the road race's largest field since 2014.

But it's become much more than an event to test a runner's endurance: the marathon is also a way for participants to raise awareness for a variety of charities and raise funds for them.

Kirsten Fleming is the executive director of the Calgary Marathon Society and says about $650,000 is raised annually through its partner 109 charities and an initiative called 'the Charity Challenge'.

Since its inception in 2013, the challenge will have raised more than $10,000,000, including donations made in 2024.

"A lot of races just have one charity that's benefiting but the magic of the Charity Challenge is that with 109 charities, there's a cause for everyone," said Fleming. "We say please use our race as the platform to raise funds and awareness, let us focus on race logistics and putting the whole thing on, make your fun T-shirts that thank your sponsors and just concentrate on having a great day and raising important funds for those charities -- so it's a huge aspect of the race."

Fleming says the event starts May 24th with participants registering at the Marathon Expo in the GMC Stadium at Stampede Park.

"We've been really trying to make it a full week of events for many years and this year, it's really feels like it's all come together," she said. "We've got pre-shakeout rounds, we've got yoga, we have the diaper dash for the little babies, an opening reception and an after-after party so it's really kicking off here today at the expo and package pickup and it's going all weekend long."

First timers

Adil Adetunji and his sister Asiyah are running in the marathon for the first time with a team they created called 'the Uplifters'. The 16 and 14 year olds have volunteered at the Calgary Food Bank since the pandemic and decided to use the marathon as a fundraiser for it.

So far they've raised more than $6,700 from family and friends.

"We've been going on hikes and runs for a while now," said Asiyah. "So since the Calgary Marathon was going to be coming up around this time, we decided why not combine the two things that we really love - raising money for the Calgary Food Bank and the marathon."

"Our family just prides itself on giving back to community just because we feel that we're well off and that there's those who are less fortunate than us," said Adil. "We just feel like we've been very lucky and that it's our responsibility to give back to the community that we've gained so much from."

Adil says in the time he and his sister have volunteered at the Food Bank that they've seen the demand increase.

"Honestly, like between the first few months that we're just learning the ropes and between between then and now we've just seen honestly say double at some point, it's a large increase," he said.

Genetic disorder

Blaine Penny is the co-founder of Mito Canada , a charity dedicated to supporting those affected by mitochondrial diseases. It's is a genetic disorder that affects the mitochondria, the parts of cells responsible for producing energy.

Penny became an advocate for the disease after his son Evan, was diagnosed. Through the charity, he and other runners have raised thousands of dollars to fund research, supporting families impacted by mitochondrial diseases and raise awareness.

This year he and 13 others will attempt a Guinness World Record for the fastest half marathon for men linked together.

"The current record is one hour and 26 minutes and you need a minimum of five people but of course, we're doing this to raise awareness for Mito Canada and to raise funds," he said. "So we're going to have 14 guys linked together, tethered together one meter apart, attempting to run under 1:20 for this half marathon."

Penny and his group of supporters are no strangers to world record attempts at the Calgary Marathon.

"This is actually our 15th Guinness World Record we're attempting," he said. "So we've done a lot of records over the years, all in partnership with the Calgary Marathon so they've been tremendous in terms of supporting us and helping us accommodate all the things that we need to do to get these records."

"I would say Mito Canada's like the little charity that could," said Fleming. "It's a small group of passionate people and they make this the central part of their fundraising every year and they've done a phenomenal job about raising awareness and now there's not many runners who don't know what mitochondrial disease is because of this group."

On May 24th, extreme athlete Andre Belibi will be making a Guinness World Record attempt for full body contact with ice outside of the GMC Stadium, but also raise awareness about people on the autism spectrum. The current record is held by a man from Poland at four hours and two minutes. Belibi is looking to stay immersed and break the record by 13 minutes.

"For something like this, you prove a lot with the mind, you do a lot of mind training, little breathing a lot of meditations to train," he said. "Of course you do ice baths, exposed to cold water, ice water in the mountains or run in the snow barefoot for hours but definitely the mind, the mind is the engine, the motor pushes me to keep on going."

Grady Semmens is helping him along the way to record the event and fallow all the Guinness guidelines and rules to make sure the record attempt is legitimate.

"Setting a world record is extreme by nature," he said. "There's a lot of things we've had to learn as we've gone, in addition to just training for cold and cold exposure, it got accepted so they're aware and this is going to be an official Guinness World Records attempt."

Semmens says Belibi's safety is paramount and there is a paramedic on hand to monitor him for over four hours. He says it's a great way to kick off the marathon festivities.

"It worked out really well partnering up with Servus Calgary Marathon," he said. "We started talking to them several months ago and they thought it was would be a really neat addition to the Marathon Expo on the opening day because it's something that's focused on human performance."

Learn more about the event here.

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