This weekend, runners from across the province will come to Lacombe to pay their respects to the man who was instrumental in the building of Lacombe’s trail system.
On Oct. 4th, Lacombe will honour the memory of Bill Nielsen with Bill’s Trail Run, a memorial run with 10km, 5km, 2km and 2km family routes.
Nielsen was born in Montreal and moved to Lacombe in 1990. He had taken up running at the age of 40 and was an advocate for physical fitness.
He was also instrumental in the creation of Lacombe’s trail system.
In April of this year, Nielsen died from pancreatic cancer at the age of 73. Now, a group of his friends and fellow runners have come up with Bill’s Trail Run as a way to remember him.
“He left us the legacy of the trails,” said Diane Foster, one of the organizers for Bill’s Trail Run.
“It’s just so beautiful around there, you forget you are even in Lacombe.”
Foster added that Nielsen has touched a lot of lives and inspired many people to run. Therefore, many people from outside Lacombe will be coming to honour him.
“We have people coming from all over Alberta,” said Foster. “Not only local talent, not only people who knew Bill but people who know of our trails.”
Rory Whitbread, a fellow runner and close friend of Nielsen’s, spoke of how Nielsen inspired him to start running.
“I know for me personally he was such an inspiration when I was getting into running and I know so many people who have the same story,” said Whitbread. “He’s just such an inspiring guy and he was more than happy to give tips here and there with people who were just starting out. There are a lot of people who are runners today thanks to Bill.”
Neil Harker, another close friend of Nielsen’s, also commented on Nielsen’s willingness to help out anyone new to the sport of running.
“He was a friend to anyone who wanted to run,” said Harker.
Whitbread actually ran the Boston Marathon in Nielsen’s name this past April just a short time before he died. Having the words ‘4 Bill’ written on his arm while running was a source of encouragement for Whitbread, he said. He added that as he was running, spectators would call out, “For Bill!” allowing him to push through the tough parts of the race.
“That was very uplifting for me,” said Whitbread.
Actually, Whitbread added that one of the last things Nielsen said to anyone was just after learning Whitbread’s time when he came across the finish line.
Nielsen gave Whitbread a faster time to match, one of Nielsen’s own times from when he competed in the Boston Marathon.
“(Nielsen) said that I would have to go back to Boston just to try to knock a few minutes off to match his time,” said Whitbread. “I might have to do it now.”
In 1980, Nielsen completed his first marathon. By the end of his running career, he would complete 100 marathons including the Boston Marathon, New York Marathon and Chicago Marathon.
In the 1990s, Nielsen moved to Lacombe and almost immediately set about building Lacombe’s trail system, said Foster.
She added that in addition to being instrumental in the design and construction of Lacombe’s trails, Nielsen was also involved in getting funding for the outdoor fitness equipment installed around Cranna Lake.
“He was a volunteer, if there was anything you needed done, he got it done,” said Foster.
Even after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2000, Nielsen continued to run. Of the 100 races he ran, Nielsen finished first in his age category 37 times, 18 of them consecutively.
Foster said that 134 participants have signed up for Bill’s Trail Run so far, including eight families for the family route around Cranna Lake.
She said that registrations remain open and organizers are still looking for volunteers to serve as race marshals as well.
Run start time is 10 a.m. and the start/finish line will be at Lacombe Composite High School. For more information, visit www.billstrailrun.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.