By land and by water, by two wheels and four, propelled by old-fashioned horsepower or human determination or the modern engine, a celebratory baton travelled across Alberta, covering more than 1,500 kilometres.
The Relay of the Decade, a highlight event for Covenant Health’s 10th anniversary, kicked off Sept. 10 in Bonnyville. Teams travelling with a baton faced rain, wind, sleet, snow and sun—a true four-season Alberta experience—before the final handoff in Medicine Hat on Sept. 14.
The relay legs and festivities invited people across the organization and beyond, such as Health Minister Sarah Hoffman, mayors, councillors, physicians and long-term care residents. That was by design and tied into the theme: Many Voices, One Mission: Stronger Together, says one of the organizers, Linda Chow-Turner, Senior Operating Officer, Seniors Care and Environmental Supports.
“The relay is a reflection of that: the idea of many voices,” says Linda. “We’ve got all our sites and all the different people and all the different ways to celebrate.”
The relay involved Covenant Health’s 18 sites, with each
site’s team choosing how to travel their leg of the journey. The choices were diverse, including a
horse-drawn wagon, decorated handivans, kayakers, hikers, walkers, bicyclists,
motorcyclists, swimmers and stand-up paddleboarders.
“They’re going to come out of this with even more connection and a sense of belonging,” says Linda. “I think those shared experiences are huge.”
When Greg Frank volunteered to run a half-marathon as part of the anniversary celebrations at Our Lady of the Rosary Hospital, some residents didn’t know what he meant.
“So I put it into locations. I said I’m running from Castor to Halkirk,” said Greg, Team Lead for Facilities Management. “And they’ve all travelled west to Stettler or Red Deer, so they go, “Oh, OK, that’s a long way.”
Greg, 58, ran through rain and snow and into a chilly northwest wind during his 20-kilometre run.
He also had to power through some good-natured teasing from some of the residents.
"They all said, 'Geez, you’re too old to be running that far. You’re going to blow a hip or something.'"
Greg was happy to see the residents take part in the relay by going down the sidewalks in their wheelchairs. And he thinks the relay is another example of how Covenant feels like a family.
When staff at St. Joseph’s Home asked Joe Chalifoux, 75, to walk with the baton for the final leg of the relay, he was confident he could do it.
“I got new knees. I got titanium knees. I can chase an elk for a mile and a half,” Joe says, chuckling.
Joe says the walkers made such good time that they slowed down until they were “ambling” as they neared the finish line to make sure they didn’t arrive before the dignitaries who were scheduled to greet them.
A photo of Joe participating in the relay made it into the local daily newspaper, something his friends and family tease him about.
“Everybody commented on how well everybody looked. They were being diplomatic,” he laughs. “’Oh geez, Joe, that was a helluva fine-looking picture you got taken.’”
Joe was glad other residents joined in the celebration.
“Everybody was in a happy frame of mind and that was good,” he says. “A lot of smiles that day. That always makes your day better.”
When you live and work in Banff, you embrace all four seasons—even when they all converge on the second week of September.
So when Kevin Palmer, a paramedic with Banff EMS, learned that his biking leg of the relay would take place in the snow, he was prepared.
“Living here and doing lots of outdoor sports, you have all the gear to be able to participate in doing things in all seasons, so it’s just a matter of pulling it out a little early,” says Kevin, who’s lived in Banff for 15 years.
And biking through a September snowfall made the 10th-anniversary celebrations all the more memorable.
“Sometimes when you have events like this, you talk about this more than you would if it was a beautiful day,” says Kevin.
“The adversity or 'Remember how cold it was?' is more team-building than it would be if it was a nice day.”
Sister Dora Durand, 84, has spent a lifetime serving others, so she was happy to participate in the Relay of the Decade.
“I thought it was an honour, really, to do that,” she says.
“I joked about it and said, ‘There’s a flame missing.’ But then I said to myself, ‘The flame is in our heart, it’s the love that we have for the poor.’ That is really the flame, we don’t really need a flame on the baton.”
She lives in and volunteers at Youville Home, having served 64 years as a member of the Grey Nuns of Alberta. And she thinks the image of a torch or baton accurately portrays how the Sisters have passed on a legacy that is being carried on by others.
“I think they’re doing a beautiful job in receiving and caring for the poor and the seniors who are sick,” says Sister Dora. “And they all have the spirit of Ste. Marguerite d’Youville, the spirit of love and compassion.”
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