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Crystal Olive runs marathon for A-T awareness

Crystal Olive and her cyclist teammates John Muller and Brian Kuyper travel on Lyndon Road.

Crystal Olive completed a marathon run Thursday that pales in comparison to the tough daily challenges facing young people with the rare genetic disease ataxia-telangiectasia, or A-T.

Breaking for A-T had raised just over $17,000 to fund research into treatment and a cure. That amount will be matched by a family in the U.S. whose child has A-T.

“Seeing people get out and move their bodies for kids who can’t is why I run,” Olive said. “We often put limits on ourselves because we believe we can’t do hard things but this event proved when you commit, do the hard work you can achieve anything.”

Olive was running in support of her 11-year-old son Alex, who has A-T, and in memory of her cousin Randy Van Hierden, who died from A-T in 2004.

Along the way, Olive was raising money for the A-T Children’s Project, which funds critical research into a treatment or cure.

A-T affects co-ordination, and causes immune deficiencies and high rates of cancer.

The Breaking for A-T team shares a cheer prior to starting the marathon.

Alex Olive was part of a drug trial in the United States where once a month he received a low-dose steroid to slow the progress of the disease.

Alex was responding to treatment and was walking but, due to COVID-19 health restrictions, had to pull out of the trial.

Alex now has full-blown A-T, and uses a walker and wheelchair.

In thinking about Alex’s situation and wanting to raise awareness of A-T and money for research, Crystal Olive decided to run a marathon.

Olive created Breaking for A-T and in addition to running a marathon to Claresholm encouraged people to take part in their own virtual three-kilometre walk or run between April 22-29.

Three kilometres takes roughly 4,200 steps, the amount Alex walks every day.

Leading up to Thursday, more than 170 people had registered for the Breaking for A-T virtual run.

The Breaking for A-T team travels north on Highway 2.

Olive and her support team left Fort Macleod about 9:30 a.m. Thursday and travelled north on Highway 2 to West Meadow school in Claresholm, where her son Alex is a student.

Helping to set the pace were runners Stephanie Ring, Heather Gertner, Brendan Grant and Keeley Milne.

Cyclists John Muller and Brian Kuyper also accompanied Olive, whose support crew included her husband Robert Olive, Jennifer Nordick, WillyAnne Moens, Rhonda Van Hierden and Katie Forster.

“Physically I held up great,” Olive said. “I was feeling strong until 21 kilometres when I started getting calf cramps. I was able to manage them with more salt and water. But saying that I still was able to push through the pain at the end.”

The hard pavement of the highway was a challenge for Olive, who trained for the marathon on gravel roads that offered more cushion.

Strong winds, particularly north of Granum, were also challenging. 

“My pacers and bikers definitely kept me going,” Olive said. “They were joking around and keeping me on pace and keeping my mind on the task. What pushed me at the end was the amazing community support when I hit Claresholm. People were shouting from their cars and the Claresholm fire guys put on their sirens as we ran by.”

“When I got close to the school the kids were screaming and there were my two boys Alex and Clark waiting for me. How can you not finish strong with that kind of energy?”

At West Meadow school, students ran a total of 237 kilometres on Thursday in support of Breaking for A-T and Alex Olive.

“What made this event so amazing was all the people who committed to running three kilometres for Alex and the fact that so many local businesses support this event even in the midst of the pandemic,” said Olive, who achieved her goal of completing the marathon in under four hours with a time of 3:58:37.

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