There’s a wall in Yana Hempler’s Victoria home decorated with extraordinarily expensive wallpaper. A patchwork quilt of race bibs adorn the space guarded by a fringe of medals. There’s her local Vancouver Island Race Series bibs; years of Times Colonist 10Ks; even her Boston Marathon number sticks to the wall. She was planning to add to it this year, but as with the rest of 2020, a global pandemic threw a wrench into those plans. By summer, all Hempler’s races for the year had been cancelled. “I had to find another way to keep myself entertained,” she said.
Without races to anchor her season she opted for a different type of challenge: raising money for charity. She would do it in a way most familiar to her – by running.
While Hempler loves running now, it’s not always been the easiest sport for the Russian-born athlete. On the verge of qualifying for a post-secondary running team, she got injured, taking herself out of the sport for a handful of years. When she returned, she could barely run a block. Hempler worked her way back slowly. First with 10Ks, then a half marathon, then a full. She set mini benchmarks for herself, watching them fly by as she continued to improve. Her big goal: a Boston qualifying time. People told her not to get her hopes up. “There were some people who were a bit skeptical and they said well you know the qualification requirements are pretty tough,” she says. “Maybe you should rethink your goals a little bit.”
Not only did she finish her first marathon, she beat her Boston-qualifying time by more than six minutes. In other words, she smashed it.
So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that when the Victoria marathoner announced a money-raising challenge in the summer, she also crushed it. Her proposition: she would run 10 marathons in 10 days and would fundraise for the Victoria Hospitals Foundation.
The non-profit is close to her heart. Last fall, a good friend received care in the ICU. “My friend is alive and doing extremely well because of the care received at the hospital,” she says. “By raising money, it will enable the hospitals to do more work, to be able to save more people’s lives and help more people survive.”
Five months into a global pandemic, Hempler was also running for front-line workers. “I know how hard they’re working right now,” she says. “So it was a good way to honour them and their contributions to society.”
As the donations flowed in, Hempler decided to extend her streak. “I just didn’t want it to end,” she says. In the end, she ran 12 marathons in 12 days and raised nearly $36,000.
Hempler is no stranger to long-distance challenges. She ran her first in 2013, running the length of Vancouver Island to raise money for three Victoria charities.
Most recently, she embarked on a six-day challenge to see just how far she could run in that time with a group of friends. While she fell short of her goal (she rolled her ankle taking a wet turn too tight on day three), the group raised $35,670 for Help Fill A Dream Foundation, which supports families with critically ill kids. It’s her final running challenge this year.
With any luck, next year’s race calendar will be fulfilled. Her current challenge: resting that ankle. Which, for an endurance runner who loves to log mileage, could be her toughest yet.
IMPACT Magazine’s December 2020 Edition
Read about our top Canadian Olympic snowboarder who returned from injury and is chasing that elusive Olympic Gold! Learn how not to lose your momentum running through the cold and snow, work out with Canada’s Top Fitness Trainers, avoid back pain with one of the world’s most renowned experts and try out our delicious Holiday-themed recipes.