When Yana Hempler first started running, she used it as a shield to protect her from the bullies at her school who picked on her for not being good at sports. She had been cut from every other team, and cross-country was all that was left, so she tried out. That was in Grade 7, and she is still in love with the sport today. So in love, in fact, that she’s preparing to run 10 marathons in 10 days, a challenge to raise money for the Victoria Hospitals Foundation (VHF) that she will begin on Friday.
Hempler’s running journey
Hempler grew up in Grand Prairie, Alta., and she moved to B.C. to attend the University of Victoria after graduating from high school. Her plan for university was to run on the cross-country team at UVic, but things didn’t work out as she had hoped. “I was dead-set on running in university,” she says. “Unfortunately, I got injured right at the end of Grade 12 and couldn’t try out. It turned out she had plantar fasciitis, and this kept her from running for a long time.
“After I recovered from that, the rest of my body started to hurt, because I spent so long favouring my legs and walking improperly,” Hempler says. “Whenever I tried to run, it just didn’t end well. I’d always hurt and end up walking home.” By 2012, four years after she started struggling with injuries, she had managed to slowly work back toward some running fitness, so she signed up for a 10K. She told herself that if she could run under an hour in the race, she wouldn’t give up on the sport. She ended up smashing that goal, running a 43:35.
“I had no idea where that came from,” she says. She signed up for another 10K a few weeks later, and once again, she hit 43 minutes. “I thought it couldn’t be a fluke since I did it twice, so I signed up for a marathon in the fall.” Her success in the 10Ks transitioned into the longer marathon distance, and she ran a 3:27 at the Victoria Marathon, which qualified her for Boston. She didn’t race the Boston Marathon the following year, but she did eventually make it to the race in 2015, where she ran 3:23.
10 in 10
Hempler has run many marathons since her first one back in 2012, and she boasts a PB at the distance of 3:18. But success in individual marathons won’t help her much as she tries to work toward 10 marathons in 10 days. She says she’s going to be smart about it.
“I’m hoping to keep it between four and five hours. If I try to do too many of them under four, I won’t have enough recovery time because of the intensity. I’m not trying to set any records.” She plans to run on a four-kilometre stretch near her house, back and forth, until she hits 42.2K each day. As an incentive to get donations, Hempler has said that if she reaches her fundraising goal of $10,000 before the end of her 10th marathon on August 2, she’ll run an 11th marathon the following day.
“If people wanna torture me, they’ll donate to the charity,” she says with a laugh. “Even if I have to walk that entire 11th marathon, I’ll do it.”
Why Victoria Hospitals Foundation?
Hempler chose to support the VHF for a very personal reason: in October, a friend of hers was admitted to a Victoria hospital, and the staff saved her life. “She had a rare blood illness,” Hempler says. “She’s now alive and well because of those doctors and nurses.” Hempler says it’s been a tough time for charities everywhere since the start of the pandemic, so she wanted to help out. “This is a really the best way I can think of to give back to the community.”