Jeff Symonds’ inspiration to become a world-class athlete came while he was attending Uplands Elementary.
On Monday he came back to the school to return the favour.
Now 29, the professional triathlete who is back-to-back Challenge Penticton Canada champion and winner of this year’s Asia-Pacific Ironman, was a special guest at the final leg of the school’s marathon running event.
“I remember sitting in assemblies just like that,” said Symonds with a laugh after talking to the 250 students in the auditorium prior to the start of the run. “Back then I thought I could do it and I don’t think it was ever about winning. It was about the dream we all had about getting to the end.
“It was the dream that made us want to try, not for the end result but more just to get out and do it.”
Symonds’ inspiration came from his Grade 4 teacher and soccer coach Frank Reimer who was a regular participant in Ironman competitions.
“This age group is just the best place to build a foundation. Now they start getting that dream as I did and Mr. Reimer instilling that dream, it’s just something that sticks with you,” Symonds said. “It just kind of inspires you and puts that dream there. Not only do you say I want to do it but that I can do it.”
He told the kids about the importance of working hard no matter how tough things get and whether it’s homework or eating their vegetables, to never give up.
Parent and organizer Ann Hurst believed logging the kilometres would be a good motivator for the students.
“It’s really pumped up the enthusiasm and now it’s not called the school-wide run anymore, it’s the marathon,” said Hurst. “I love running and my family is active and I want to get the kids more experience with racing and organized sports. They love it.”
To get to the 42 kilometre marathon distance, students ran Monday, Wednesday and Friday each week in the fall and the spring with the option of two and four kilometre runs.
Members of the kindergarten class did a half-marathon over the course of the program.