BY ZACH CORMIER
During the first weekend of October, residents can expect to see runners numbering in the hundreds out on the trails that Bill Nielsen built across Lacombe.
The second annual Bill Nielsen Trail Run will take place on Oct. 3rd in Lacombe. It is put on every year by the Bill Nielsen Trail Society to remember Nielsen, who died of pancreatic cancer in April of 2014.
“It’s a nice way to honour his memory, to host an annual run,” said Rory Whitbread, a committee member of the Bill Nielsen Trail Society.
The Society is a group of volunteers, many of whom were Nielsen’s friends and family. They are dedicated to the continuous upkeep of his trails. They also meet and run together regularly to continue his legacy.
Nielsen took up running in 1977 after moving from Montreal to Fort McMurray, to take a job in the oil industry. He helped found the Fort McMurray Running Club in 1980 and, at the age of 40, ran his first marathon that same year.
After Nielsen retired in 1996, he and his wife Jean moved to Lacombe, and Bill continued to pursue his hobby, at that point already having almost 50 marathons under his belt. He continued to run well into his senior years, even after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2000. In fact, he ran over 30 marathons after being diagnosed.
In 2008, at the Woody’s RV World Marathon in Red Deer, Bill completed his 100th marathon.
“Bill was an amazing man who was an excellent runner. More than that he was just an amazing person and volunteer,” Whitbread said.
In addition to running marathons, Bill also spent much of his retirement in Lacombe developing a system of trails, many of which he cut and maintained by hand.
“What Bill has done is made nature available to the community,” said Neil Harker, who was Bill’s neighbour and running partner.
Harker added that the trails have greatly improved his own quality of life and the quality of life of those around him.
Last year, the event attracted hundreds of runners from all over the province, who came to remember a great athlete and friend.
“We had just an amazing turnout last year and we’re very thankful for all of the local sponsors and everyone who’s helped make this run a big success and we’re hoping to continue that on this year,” said Whitbread.
This year’s run will feature five routes of varying distances, from a 2 km long family run and walk all the way up to Bill’s Special, a 10-mile-long monster of a course that pays homage to Bill’s preferred training distance. Also being offered are a 2km run, a 5km and a 10km.
All of the routes begin and end behind Lacombe Composite High School and follow the trails that Bill built.
“Anyone around Lacombe that day is sure to see runners out using the trails,” said Whitbread.
All the proceeds from the run go to maintaining the trails that Bill built.
People wishing to participate must register online at www.billstrailrun.com. Registration closes on Sept. 30th.