Three generations of a now Terrace-based family are running the Copenhagen marathon together to celebrate the 50th anniversary of when their family immigrated to Canada.
Sisters Sue Simpson and Birgitte Bartlett (previously Brørup) emigrated as children from Denmark, and are running the marathon May 22 with Bartlett’s daughters Nina Peden and Mary Denton, and grand daughter Araya Bartlett.
Inspired partly by the historical and cultural connection to Copenhagen, but also the drive to stay healthy, the family members have varying degrees of running experience, most inspired by Simpson.
Simpson started running for general health in 1980 at age 27, and has run over 20 marathons in the last 36 years.
“It’s sort of a natural progression for a runner, especially once you get hooked,” said Simpson. “Some people are happy with 5-10K runs, but for me, my strength was definitely in the distances.”
When she is not training, Simpson runs close to 13 km a day, five days a week, and says in her younger days she ran 16 km every day.
She was the first Canadian woman to finish the Vancouver BMO marathon in both 1984 and 1985, and her best time was 2 hours and 53 minutes.
A marathon is “a good stress reliever and there’s good camaraderie,” Simpson said, adding that running is easy to fit into any schedule.
“You can do it at any time, you don’t need a gym to be open or anything special. You can just go,” she said, adding that she runs outside year-round, any temperature.
Simpson was age 13 and Bartlett 14 when they emigrated with their parents Erik and Grethe Brørup and sisters Marianne and Nina in 1966.
Bartlett remembers the Polish ocean liner she and her family took when they left Copenhagen: It was called the MS Batory, carried close to 1,000 people, and was like a cruise ship, she said.
“They had different menus every day… there was a swimming pool, and there was tennis and ping pong on the decks… a lot of the Polish immigrants didn’t have cabins, and they actually camped out on the floor,” Bartlett said.
She added that she and her family shared two cabins and were among the few who did not get seasick during the 10 day journey across the Atlantic Ocean and up the St. Lawrence River to Montreal, Québec.
Bartlett’s father Erik Brørup was a bush pilot and moved the family because he was recruited to Canada for work. They moved around and lived in several different communities in Ontario for three years before moving to Terrace in 1969.
Bartlett says she has returned to Copenhagen close to 10 times since they left 50 years ago, but her trip this month may be a farewell to her home country, since her closest aunt and uncles have passed away.
“I feel like we have lost our connections to Denmark now… so I almost feel like it is a goodbye to Denmark for me,” Bartlett said.
Over 10,000 people are expected to run the Copenhagen marathon, which takes a flat, 42-kilometre route through downtown and past some of the most attractive sites in the city, including the little mermaid and royal palace.
Bartlett says they plan to visit the school and park where she and her sisters grew up, as well as tour the Viking Ship Museum, some Denmark castles, and a few sites in Iceland.
Three friends from Prince Rupert, Samantha Kasdorf, and Tanis and Tammy Palmer, are also coming on the trip and running the marathon.
Barlett said she started running in 2008 and has run one marathon before, a challenge between herself and her daughter Mary Denton. Denton said she made an off-handed joke that they had to run a marathon together before Barlett’s 60th birthday and Denton’s 30th, and Bartlett held her to it.
So in 2011, Bartlett ran one with Simpson in New York and Denton ran in Victoria. Denton has run the Victoria marathon twice more since then.
“My aunt has always been a bit of an inspiration to me,” said Denton of Simpson. “Running a marathon is a huge accomplishment.”
Denton said she did not enjoy running at first, but did it to stay healthy, and now she has learned to love it.
Denton’s daughter Araya, 14, is involved in a variety of sports and has run up to 12 km before. Due to a recent injury, she is not running the full marathon in Copenhagen, but plans to run a shorter race.
Peden is the fifth family member going to Copenhagen, and this marathon will be her first.
“At first I wasn’t committed to going. I said I would just train as if I am going,” Peden said. “Then all of a sudden I was going… I never thought I would be running no 30-some kilometres. Now it will be 42. It’s crazy,”
Peden has run off and on for four years, more consistently in the last two, and started marathon training in January with runs as long as 16 km, which have been building since then.
Each of the family members have their own training schedule, with some running 30-50 km/week, others 60-80 km/week, and Simpson up to 100km/week.
Below is a map of one of the training routes in Terrace that Bartlett often runs, looping twice in order to run close to 30 kilometres:
For Denton, the Copenhagen trip is about seeing her cultural heritage, seeing some of her mom’s history, and spending time with family.
“It’s a great opportunity to go and experience the [Danish] culture, and for my mom to be able to take us around and show us the different places,” she said.
She says that she is looking forward to the time with her daughter, and enjoying the experience with the others of her family and her friends.
“I don’t think many families take the opportunity to do things like this together and encourage each other with a healthy lifestyle… I’ve got three children and I hope that I would be able to inspire them to stay healthy the same way my mom has inspired me,” she said.