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Kindred Spirits

Years of competitive mountain running gave Shannon Penway the physical and mental strength to recover from a catastrophic bike crash. What are the chances that her rescuer was also a veteran trail runner?

On Sept. 23, 2017, Antonio (Tony) Robinson, an ultrarunner and off-duty firefighter from Monroe, Wash., was driving along Washington State Route 542 toward the majestic Mount Baker. He was with his wife, Cheryl, and their teenage sons, Gabe and Jon. Following them in a second car were Cheryl’s sister, Sarah, and her husband, Mike, their two young daughters, and Cheryl and Sarah’s father, Eric. Among the dense forest and glacier-fed rivers, Tony and his family shared pleasant memories of Cheryl’s mother, Susan, whose ashes they planned to scatter along her favourite hiking trail.

Tony was a runner. Starting in junior high, he ran cross country and the decathlon in college, moving up to the marathon in the early 1990s, ultimately getting his best time down to 3:08. He started running ultras in his late 20s, including the inaugural Diez Vista 50K in Port Moody, B.C., in 1997. Like any aspiring ultrarunner, Tony’s goal was to run Western States – the oldest and most prestigious 100-mile race in North America. After running qualifying times two years in a row but not having his name drawn in the lottery, Tony finally got the chance to run Western States in 1997. The race has a 30-hour cutoff, and Tony finished in 28:57:21. He still enjoyed shorter races, too. From 2012 to 2017, Tony held the Guinness World Record for the fastest mile in a firefighter’s uniform (8:05.54). “I love the freedom and simplicity of running,” he says, “and how it keeps me fit and mentally in a good place, with all the negative things I see at work.” He has been an EMT since 2006 and a paid firefighter since 2009. His bucket-list race is the Badwater 135 – the 135-mile race through California’s Death Valley, where temperatures routinely soar into the 40s Celsius.

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