Sports

Couple's vision inspires seniors to stay Forever Young

By Don Fennell

Published 11:23 PDT, Tue August 13, 2019

Last Updated: 12:53 PDT, Thu August 29, 2019

When John Young was courting his wife-to-be, Joan, a varsity basketball game was the obvious choice for a first date. After all, both aspiring teachers—who met as students in the Faculty of Education at the University of British Columbia—were passionate about sports and participated in many. John, in fact, earned a degree in physical education at UBC in 1969 while a member of the varsity gymnastics team.

When John Young was courting his wife-to-be, Joan, a varsity basketball game was the obvious choice for a first date. After all, both aspiring teachers—who met as students in the Faculty of Education at the University of British Columbia—were passionate about sports and participated in many. John, in fact, earned a degree in physical education at UBC in 1969 while a member of the varsity gymnastics team.

But neither knew then just how much athletics would shape their lives, and—as conduits—others around them.

Architects of next month's Forever Young 8k, Sept. 8 at the Richmond Olympic Oval, the local couple are role models for seniors everywhere. Entering its fifth year, the run is exclusive to the ever-emerging  55-plus set determined to remain active.

"The Forever Young 8k was a dream I had for many years," explains John. "I realized I wasn't getting any younger so I gathered a committee of experience race organizers and put the wheels in motion. Seasoned race directors told me it couldn't be done because we'd be cutting out over half the regular participants by restricting it to 55-plus, but my feeling was that it was time someone focused on the many fit seniors we have in our community. This event is a chance for seniors to gain well-deserved recognition for their commitment to fitness, and it celebrates active seniors setting an example that encourages all seniors to adopt healthy lifestyles.

"We always enjoyed working with young people, and watching them develop and learn provided us with a tremendous degree of reward and accomplishment," adds John.

But the ever-energetic and engaging Youngs, now 70-somethings, didn't rest on those laurels.

Having always been active in their early years—from tennis to skiing to hiking (even canoeing the Bowron Lake chain)—they entered the senior years with the same resolve. And they continued to help organize activities, arguably even stepping it up after retiring serving as co-ordinators of the Richmond Terry Fox Run for 10 years, and leading the Vancouver Sun Run clinics at South Arm Community Centre. In 1996, Joan and McFarlan were running regularly, so John decided to take a training program at Steveston Community Centre in order to catch up.

The 8k (the only event of its kind in Canada) is a spin-off of the Forever Young Club, whose membership is soaring. The success of the popular Richmond running club (which also welcomes walkers; in fact, about two-thirds of the club are such) has inspired a Vancouver chapter that meets every Tuesday and Thursday at Granville Island. And plans are afoot to expand to other Metro Vancouver locations in the future.

Weather-wise, it's a near-perfect Wednesday when we finally catch up with the Youngs following another exhilarating run through Steveston with about 50 other enthusiastic and dedicated senior foot soldiers. They've also just enjoyed a healthy dose of fitness and socializing and it's not yet noon.

"We exercise for an hour and socialize over coffee for an hour. Both are of equal importance," says John. "You aren't lonely in the Forever Young Club."

Many members, including the Youngs, are in their 70s and three are in their 80s. Legendary Canadian and international masters runner Gwen McFarland is 85. Focused on seniors, the group includes many cancer survivors, others who've battle heart disease, and still others dealing with various aches and pains. They all have one thing in common: refusing to remain idle.

Numerous friendships have also been forged through the club, with the Youngs serving as hosts of two major get-togethers at least twice a year. Last Canada Day, some 70 souls turned up at the Young home following a run and walk, and then on B.C. Day, following a run and walk at McDonald Beach, another 60 gathered for an outdoor picnic.

Members are also encouraged to give back. Each Christmas, the Youngs host a banquet attended by at least 100 people. The tradition includes sharing the joy of the season with those less fortunate by collecting donations for the Richmond Food Bank. Proceeds from the not-for-profit 8k are also forwarded to the Dream On Foundation (senior Make-a-Wish), which over the years has totalled more than $12,000.

In 2013, John underwent triple bypass surgery and had a pacemaker installed. Seven months later he ran the Scotiabank half marathon. In the last 20 years, Joan ran six marathons and over 25 half marathons. However, the couple has scaled back and is now content to stick with shorter distances.

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