Runner inspired by sick children and local club

Okotoks: Big Rock president recovers from being hit by car

By: Bruce Campbell

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Jan 16, 2013 11:03 am

Sandra Alwood, far left, celebrates with fellow Big Rock Runners after she finished a half-marathon at the St. Jude Marathon in Memphis on Dec. 1, nearly three years after being struck by a car in Las Vegas. From left are, Alwood, Lori Toombs, Jos Brinkhof, Mark Toombs and Emily Pon.
Sandra Alwood, far left, celebrates with fellow Big Rock Runners after she finished a half-marathon at the St. Jude Marathon in Memphis on Dec. 1, nearly three years after being struck by a car in Las Vegas. From left are, Alwood, Lori Toombs, Jos Brinkhof, Mark Toombs and Emily Pon.
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St. Jude Marathon results

Okotoks runners’ results at the St. Jude Marathon in Memphis on Dec. 1
Lori Toombs, 3:45:02
Jos Brinkhof, 4:11:27

Mark Toombs, 1:38:16
Emily Pon, 1:48:53
Sandra Alwood, 1:59:21

An Okotoks runner wasn’t about to disappoint the thousands of sick children cheering her on during a half-marathon in December.

Sure, Sandra Alwood was three years removed from being struck down by a vehicle in Las Vegas, but that was nothing compared to what the children were going through who lined the streets and yelled their heart-felt support at the St. Jude Marathon on Dec. 1 in Memphis.

“At about eight kilometres I was kind of doing the walk-limp thing and I thought ‘Am I going to finish this thing?’” said Alwood, a teacher at Dr. Morris Gibson School. “When we ran through the St. Jude’s Hospital grounds all these sick, terminally ill kids had lined the roads and were cheering us on.

“I just started to cry,” she recalled. “I said: ‘you just have to suffer through this because this is nothing compared to what these kids have to go through every day of their lives.’

“I took an Advil and walk-ran it the rest of the way. At one point I had to lay down in someone’s yard to stretch.”

Alwood, the president of the Big Rock Runners (BRR) in Okotoks, participated in the run with fellow BRR members Jos Brinkhof, Lori Toombs, Mark Toombs and Emily Pon.

She credited the support she received from the Big Rock Runners for getting her back on the road after she was hit by a car in Las Vegas in the fall of 2009.

“I was out doing what I love — I was out for a morning run,” Alwood said. “I was crossing the intersection across from the convention centre — one of the busiest in Las Vegas — and the next thing you know I am in an ambulance.”

She called her injuries equivalent to “a pianist breaking their fingers or the singer who injures her vocal chords.”

Alwood broke her tibial plateau, which is at the joint of the knee.

“To have a runner have that substantial of an injury is pretty serious,” Alwood said. “I never thought I wouldn’t run again, but there was some uncertainty to the outcome. I had an amazing team that helped me.”

That amazing team including surgeons, massage therapists and friends in Okotoks and the Big Rock Runners.

“Everyone of those people never let me lose my hope of wanting to recover,” Alwood said while fighting back tears. “My hope was getting back to where I was before.”

Alwood would regularly attend the Big Rock Runners Saturday morning runs at the Okotoks Recreation Complex during her recovery. She wouldn’t lace on the sneakers for a run, but would hangout with friends who inspired her.

“They never once asked if I would ever run again,” Alwood said. “Every time I went there on Saturdays — it was so difficult to go there in a wheelchair — and all of the words were so encouraging. There was never uncertainty.”

It was a slow process, but Alwood took her first steps in 2010 at the Centennial Arena walking track in Okotoks in the early morning. She formed a bond with some senior citizens who were walking to recover from hip surgeries.

With a flexibility program at the Okotoks pool developed by BRR member Jan Smart and working out at Natural High Fitness.

“What really made a difference was going to Natural High Fitness to work on my strength on my leg on the machines and Jan Smart showed me a program to work on my range of motion in the pool,” Alwood said. “The staff at the pool was incredible, they were so encouraging.

“What really helped, was I began to do some swimming and started getting my cardiovascular back.”

It wasn’t until February of 2010 she went for her first run with the Big Rock Runners.

“It was extremely emotional,” Alwood said with a laugh. “I think I had to go to the bathroom and cry before I went for my first run with them. I was so happy to be able to run with them again, because the thought crossed my mind that the reality was it was possible I could not be with them. In some ways I was very lucky.”

In the back of her mind, running a full marathon was one of her goals.

“Ever since I started running I was always intrigued by how hard it is to prepare to run a marathon,” Alwood said. “Last June I ran the Millarville half-marathon and I really enjoyed it.

“I didn’t know if I was strong enough to run a marathon because of my accident, but I sure would like to train for it and see how it unfolds.”

Lori Toombs, a veteran Boston Marathoner, helped her establish a program and Alwood would do her longer runs with Pon.

Alwood began training for the Memphis marathon, but an injury to her IT band made her realize she wasn’t going to be able to run the full 42.2km so she settled on running half, a goal she was able to accomplish thanks to the Big Rock Runners.

She won’t forget the help she got from her friends with the running club — both before and after being struck in Las Vegas.

As a result, she let her name stand for the presidency of the club in November when Jim Cadman’s term ended.

“I just want to give back to a club that has done nothing but support me and the programs I was working on,” Alwood said. “We are there for each other. I can honestly say, without my running club I wouldn’t have done the run I just did. After my accident, they phoned me, they brought me food, they were there for me.”

For more information about the Big Rock Runners go to


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