Thirty years ago, Denis McKee decided to try to go for a run.
The annual Terry Fox run was coming up in Toronto, his hometown. He didn’t train for it, he just put on a pair of shorts and set out to warm-up on the day of the race by jogging around his block.
He ran 100 metres from his front door, fell and tore up his knee.
“I felt like a damn fool … I limped back. My pride was destroyed, my leg was destroyed,” McKee said with a laugh. “I had absolutely no intention of ever running again in my life. That was it.”
Now 80 years old, McKee will be running the 5K at the Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend on Saturday at 4 p.m.
“It’s good for you, but it’s hard work … I think there’s a payoff. I’m still here, that’s one thing,” McKee said. “I feel good about it after I’ve done it. I’m tired … but I feel like I’ve accomplished something.”
Exercise was reintroduced to his life after he got into a car accident in 2013. He had pain in his hip and back that persisted after various therapies. He decided to take matters into his own hands and started going to the gym. That routine didn’t stick with him, but the pain was still there.
Luckily, he could turn to his daughters, Heather McKee and Nancy Fay, for some motivation.
“I felt I had to do something to get training because of the pain … I saw Heather, who started (running half marathons) in her early 40s … and my other daughter, Nancy, has been trekking … the Himalayas, the Andes,” McKee said. “I guess they inspired me.”
In 2016, he tried exercising again. Currently, he heads to the gym for an hour most mornings. He hits the treadmill and does some other leg-strengthening exercises.
“I do it because it feels OK for me. I don’t train so much for races. I just do the exercise. Racing is the cream on the pie,” he said.
Though this year’s Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend won’t be his first run, it’s his first since turning 80.
In October 2017, he ran his first 5K during the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. McKee said he was nervous at the time.
“I was embarrassed to be there. (I’m) tall and skinny and (didn’t feel) like (I was) in the greatest condition. (I) expected to see a whole bunch of real jocks,” he said.
All McKee wanted to do was finish, and he did.
“I was quite arrogant. I was pleased with myself,” he said. “It was an amazing experience to see the people, all ages, sizes, shapes and conditions, getting out there.”
Next, he ran the 5K in last year’s Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend, then followed that up by running his third 5K back at Toronto’s Waterfront in 2018.
His daughter Heather always runs beside him on his 5Ks to encourage him, but for this race weekend he’s also being joined by Fay and her husband.
Fay, whose husband is Australian, will be moving to Australia soon.
“It’s the last chance the whole bunch of us will be together,” McKee said.
After this race weekend, McKee again has his sights set on Toronto’s Waterfront 5K in October.
“I haven’t figured out why I am punishing myself at this age with daily workouts … but there seems to be some strange pleasure in achieving something I never thought myself capable of doing,” he said in an email. “Perhaps it’s for the … eye-catching race shirts or the inspiration provided by all those thousands of amazing people who participate in these challenging events.”