For two hours every morning, you can find Dr. Jack Taunton clutching trekking poles and hauling it down Salish Sea Drive in Tsawwassen.
The 75-year-old pioneer of sports medicine is one of seven hard-charging seniors being recognized Saturday with a “7 Over 70 Award” honouring “older persons who continue to spend their lives taking on new projects, business, and philanthropic endeavours.”
The honour comes at a time when Taunton, who spent 40 years as a physician, researcher and educator at the University of B.C., is battling bladder cancer.
“I don’t have any power, or very little, on my right side,” Taunton said. “It’s because the immunotherapy drug I’ve been taking to stop the spread of cancer from my bladder also attacks my nerves.”
But the Delta resident is no stranger to adversity.
His love for sports was born from a drive to overcome physical limitations as a child. At age 6, he contracted polio, resulting in paralysis of his right arm and leg. After he recovered from that disease, a car struck him while he was on a bike ride, fracturing his foot and leg.
“I couldn’t do any sports until I was 14,” Taunton said. “When I got out of my cast, I went crazy. I played football, soccer, and then I started running. Eventually, I was competing in marathons.”
Taunton became a nationally ranked marathoner, completing 60 races with a personal best of 2:25:29. He did this while attending UBC medical school, where he later became a professor and developed a clinical practice in sports medicine.
In 1971, he started Canada’s first road-running club, the Lions Gate Road Runners, alongside fellow UBC physician Doug Clement. The pair organized local races that would eventually grow to become the BMO Vancouver Marathon and the Vancouver Sun Run.
Taunton also co-founded SportMedBC, an organization that facilitates Sun Run training clinics. “We see people go from walking to running 10K in a span of 13 weeks and just reaping the benefits,” he said.
Last April, the physician came out of self-isolation to lead the Sun Run alongside Clement, as the pair has done for three decades now.
“It was the first event I was allowed to go to because of the chemotherapy I was on,” Taunton said.
The doctor said that was likely the last race he would ever run.
“I can’t take any chances now because my bones are brittle, and if I fall I would likely break a hip or a knee. I’ve already lost nine teeth,” he said. “I’m no longer able to keep balance.”
But Taunton said he has no plans to quit exercising. He is encouraging others, especially people his age, to do the same.
“Regular exercise reduces your risk of heart disease, cancer, stroke, and high blood pressure. It adds to the quality and longevity of your life,” said Taunton, noting the more than 200,000 kilometres he has run over the years.
He said daily 24-kilometre walks with his wife, Cheryl, helped him recover from heart surgery many years ago and allowed him to go on to work as the chief medical lead of the Canadian team at the Sydney 2000 Olympics. Taunton has led Canada’s medical team at seven other Olympic Games, including the Vancouver 2010 Olympics.
In 2016, he helped found a sports medicine clinic in Uganda.
While the physician is no longer able to cycle or run, he said his mission to inspire others continues in the walking he does every morning around Delta.
“Combining exercise and chemotherapy, oh god, you feel just terrible. But I know if I want to improve my cancer prognosis I’ve got to continue exercising every day,” he said.
“Today on my walk, I had two cyclists stop and talk to me. One of them thanked me and said: ‘I see you out here every day and it motivates me.’ I think that is my purpose right now.”
The 7 over 70 awards are sponsored by KinVillage, a non-profit association that provides a range of housing, as well as health and wellness programs, for seniors in Delta.
“There are awards that recognize younger people but not that many that honour older adults for the work they do after 70,” said Dan Levitt, CEO of KinVillage, in a statement.
In addition to Taunton, Saturday’s gala will recognize Carlene Lewall, a long-time gymnastics coach; Peter Guichon, a fourth-generation farmer who drove advancements in agriculture; Avis Glaze, an international educator; Bruno Marti, a chef who has provided mentorship in the culinary industry; Leslie Abramson, a business owner and long-time volunteer; and Bill Wilms, a broadcaster who has shared his love of golf.
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