January 3rd, 2011


Through sheer grit and perseverance, Parnell completed his 250th marathon of 2010 on New Year's Eve, capping an astounding effort to raise money for a global children's charity.

In a quest that began last Jan. 1, the Cochrane, Alta., man spent 250 days running 42.2 kilometres a day -- the equivalent of a full marathon -- to log a year-end total of 10,500 km while enduring everything from sweltering heat to freezing temperatures.

"I'm happy I'm done. I'll be honest with you," said Parnell, a competitive runner and Ironman competitor. "I've been at this five days a week. It's been a long year."

As expected, it hasn't been an easy undertaking. Aside from battling the elements, Parnell suffered a leg injury, had to stay hydrated and energized, avoided blisters on his feet and went through 25 pairs of running shoes.

It seems he surprised even himself.

"There were times during the year when I thought, ‘This is it, I'm done.' But I just kept plodding and here we are today," said Parnell, a 55-year-old semi-retired engineer.

What kept him going was the encouragement of his wife and his goal of raising $250,000 for Right to Play, a charity that uses sport and games to teach life lessons to disadvantaged children around the world.

"The fact that they have these programs not only abroad but also in Canada in four-and-a-half thousand schools, that really resonated with me," Parnell said.

By crossing the finish line one final time, Parnell has proved his naysayers wrong. Some people told him the lofty goal was excessive or impossible. People called him crazy but his committal never wavered, and neither did his wife Sue's support.

"I'm extremely proud of him. I never had any doubt that he would do it," said Sue Parnell, who helped to organize the fundraising campaign. "Right from day one I knew he'd do it as long as he didn't have any terrible injury."

Parnell's goal of completing 250 marathons wasn't done entirely on his own, as he had some company along the way.

Like scenes from the film Forrest Gump, where strangers join the title character on his spontaneous run across the U.S., Parnell's supporters joined him on many of his runs, including Friday's final marathon.

Most of the kilometers were logged on a course near Cochrane, but Parnell also completed official marathons and spent time running at schools to raise awareness about his campaign and Right to Play.

The distance Parnell has covered would take him across Canada to New York City, then across the U.S. to Seattle and back to Cochrane.