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‘Clinically dead’: Kelowna senior comes back to lead the pack by example

Jim Lawrence, 84, has not let a cardiac arrest stop him from walk/running races

A Kelowna man is leading by example and living an active life, despite having suffered a cardiac arrest 16 years ago.

Jim Lawrence, 84, starts most mornings with a walk/run, often meeting up with a group of friends well before most of the world is awake.

He discovered running at 59 years old, while at his son’s Simon Fraser University soccer game.

“I looked down and I saw these runners go by. They had numbers on their chests and were all different shapes and sizes and ages.”

Up until that point, Lawrence said, his typical weekend routine consisted of a case of beer and relaxing with his family.

“I looked at the runners and thought, I’m going to try that.”

It was after that, he registered with a learn-to-run group in Vancouver and was immediately hooked. Since then, Lawrence has raced in everything from local events to major marathons across North America.

In 2007, moments before the gun went off, at the start of a pre-marathon fun run that would kick off a weekend of racing in Kelowna, Lawrence collapsed and suffered a cardiac arrest.

“I flat-lined for nine minutes… I was clinically dead.”

Immediately, other runners jumped into action. He received CPR from nearby firefighters, nurses and doctors who were also at the race until paramedics arrived.

Lawrence was successfully resuscitated and was eventually transferred to Victoria where he received an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator and stents in his heart.

After returning home Lawrence laced up and took to the streets, only to discover that his heart was no longer able to sustain the effort of a run.

“So then, I slowed down… I conceded that I wouldn’t be running any more marathons.”

However, while he did slow down, Lawrence couldn’t be stopped. He found his stride again and began training to walk half marathon races.

Initially, his wife and children were worried about him getting back out on the roads but came to understand that running is his passion.

“I’m an addict,” said Lawrence, joking about his obsession with exercising outdoors.

Since his cardiac arrest, Lawrence has been vocal about his journey as a runner and an advocate for heart health. He eventually met another athlete who could relate to his situation.

Corrine Gable, a former Ironman triathlete, had her world change in her late 40s, when she was diagnosed with a heart condition that prevented her from ever racing again.

The pair became friends immediately and began to support each other to reach their goals. They train together by walk/running and sharing an understanding of the emotional toll that comes with being unable to do what you love.

Keeping a slow and steady pace, Lawrence and Gable act as the pace bunnies at many races and use their years of experience to help those at the back of the pack reach the finish line.

Recently, Lawrence completed the BMO Vancouver 8km race with his daughter.

“She was all worried about me, of course, but I know what I’m doing, I’ve done these things before.”

Lawrence usually runs for 200 meters and counts it out with his steps. Then, he slows down and walks until he feels better before jogging for another 200 steps, doing this again and again until he crosses the finish line.

During the BMO race, he slowed down to encourage other runners, who were struggling with the hills, giving them tips that he has learned over the years, such as taking baby steps up steep hills and breaking the race up into small segments.

Lawrence plans to continue running and spreading his love for the sport for as long as possible. He appreciates each day that he can spend outdoors.

He is a member of various run clubs in the city and recommends that people join local groups like the Kelowna Running Club (active on Facebook) the Play Kelowna run group and the Interior Road Running Association to run with others and make friends.


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Jacqueline Gelineau

About the Author: Jacqueline Gelineau

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