From 5Ks to marathons over 80: Running to support seniors and veterans

Helen was 70 when she ran her first race 14 years ago. Since then, she’s run numerous 5Ks and 10Ks, over 20 half-marathons, and over 4 destination marathons, including races in Paris, Washington D.C., Chicago, and the Space Coast Marathon in Florida. Her introduction to running was inspired by her daughter Kelly, who had also started as part of a post-cancer treatment program.

“My daughter encouraged me to sign up for a 5K run during a family trip to Hawaii, celebrating the end of her chemo,” Helen recalls. “I signed up and did half of it, and then just kept doing more.”

As her coach Louis Comerton told her, “If you can run a 5k, you can run a 10k. If you can run 10k you can run a half and if you run a half, you can run a full.” And she has. Since then, Helen has joined Kelly and her son-in-law, Ken, in marathons and half-marathons across the globe. They also spent 33 days walking 18-34 km daily along the Camino de Santiago.

For Helen, running is more than just a personal challenge; it’s a way to honour the memory of her father, who served in the Black Watch regiment during World War II. “My dad signed up voluntarily in 1940. It was supposed to be a three-month war, but it ended up being five years,” she explains. “I didn’t really know my dad, but my mum would bring me letters and show me pictures. He never talked about the war, but I knew it meant a lot to him because he would be crying at the November 11 ceremony.”

This year, approaching the 80th anniversary of D-Day, Helen is running the Ottawa Half Marathon presented by Desjardins at Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend and fundraising for Perley Health. Perley Health supports over 600 Seniors and Veterans living in their independent apartments or receiving long-term care, it’s also a centre of research and education. 

“I worked at Perley Health as a volunteer before COVID slowed things down,” Helen explains. “My dad was treated at the Queen Mary Veterans Hospital in Montreal for two years before he died. I’ve always had a wonderful respect for the soldiers who defend us.”

Helen’s efforts help fund critical programs at Perley Health, including a wound care program that is now one of the best in the area. “Funds raised go beyond purchases empowering us to provide holistic care, drive groundbreaking research, and disseminate invaluable knowledge. While the equipment procured enhances care and comfort within our walls, its impact reverberates far beyond, touching lives across the city and province. Every dollar raised doesn’t just buy equipment—it enriches countless lives with compassion, innovation, and lasting impact,” says Courtney Rock, Director of Development, Community Engagement, and Partnerships at Perley Health. 

“Contributions like Helen’s have helped make that possible. We can evaluate the impact of our program and share what we found so other homes can implement it.”

Helen continues to train diligently, mixing running and walking to prepare for the race. “I used to prepare very carefully in my ‘younger days’,” she jokes. “Now, I try to mix it with running and walking. It’s more of a walk than a run, but I still enjoy it.”

As she crosses the finish line at Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend, Helen hopes to inspire others to pursue their passions and make a difference in their communities. “Keep walking, keep moving,” she encourages. “Do it for a cause that means something to you. It creates good memories and good deeds that last a lifetime.”

To join Helen and the rest of the team at Perley Health to raise money for seniors and veterans, or to donate to support Helen’s cause, visit her team page here.