Runner known for his shirtless endurance
Edmonton legend dies at age 91
There was no question which photograph to choose when it came time for Chi Ping Chan’s family to select something for their beloved father and grandfather’s obituary.
It was the photo that captured the man at the age of 83 doing what made him a legend in southwest Edmonton through the 1980s, 1990s and well into the 2000s: running shirtless down a snowy sidewalk in the dead of winter, head covered with a tuque, arms wrapped up to his elbows with massive mittens and shoulders slightly hunched in his distinctive running style.
“This is, in a way, iconic,” his youngest son, Dr. Ming Chan, said of the image. “When we think about him, he would diligently and conscientiously brave the elements, no matter what it was.”
Chan did not move to Edmonton until 1983, but between an exercise regime that grandson Joe Chan described as superhuman and an ability to make fast and lasting friendships despite any language barriers, the senior left his mark.
Chan died May 29 at Grey Nuns Hospital from lymphoma. He was 91.
His death prompted remembrances throughout the city, but particularly among those with roots in the southwest.
Riverbend runner Doug Wiltshire recalled Chan fondly in a letter to the Journal. “Should the city decide to put up a piece of art again, it should be a statue of Mr. Chan placed in (James) Ramsay Park, along part of his usual route on Riverbend Road,” he wrote.
Even before Chan moved to Edmonton and infused himself in its mythology, he had lived a full life.
Born on Oct. 10, 1920, he grew up in a small village in China’s Guang- zhou province. The eldest son of a poor family, he received one year of formal education before he had to leave school and take on any job that needed to be done, be it on the family farm or elsewhere in the village.
When Japan invaded, Chan fled to Hong Kong at his father’s urging, making the dangerous 320-kilometre trek by foot. There, during the Second World War, Chan met his wife, Chan Wong. Their marriage lasted for more than six decades, until his wife’s death in March 2011.
After the war, Chan worked for the government as a labourer, building and maintaining public works projects and working his way up to foreman. He held that job until he retired, in addition to countless part-time jobs that his six children remember him working to support the family. His children said that his extreme work ethic inspired them, too: Three went on to careers as doctors, one as an engineer, one as a nurse and one as a physical therapist.
Once retired, Chan and his wife moved to Canada, which several of their children already called home. They started in Vancouver, but two years later moved to Edmonton, where daughter Wai Doyle-Chan was training as a specialist. The couple quickly made themselves at home on Richards Crescent, where Chan lived until he fell ill.
At Chan’s funeral, family and friends also remembered the quiet and determined man for his selftaught know-how, which he applied to everything from carpentry projects to learning English.
Through English courses at the Alberta Vocational College, the Cantonese-speaking Chan met teachers who recorded lessons for him on cassette tapes. He’d listen to those lessons on his headphones during his three-hour runs.
One of the most inspiring things about Chan’s athletic legacy is that he did not start running until his 50s, when a doctor diagnosed him with Type 2 diabetes.
And why no shirt in all but the coldest temperatures? Ming said it was simply the way his father felt comfortable running. He’d leave the house wearing something, then strip the layers off as he got hot. He seemed to have an extremely warm core, Ming said.
About seven years ago, Chan gave up most of his running routine in favour of swimming at the Kinsmen Sports Centre, going there daily with his wife. Chan quickly became a fixture in the pool, just as he did on his running route. Staff threw a 90th birthday party for him and he was inducted into the Kinsmen’s Wall of Fame.
Ming said the family has been extremely moved by the many condolences and memories.