Ed Whitlock (1931-2017): ‘He showed that age is no barrier to accomplishment’
The Concordia community was deeply saddened to learn of the passing of running legend Ed Whitlock. Whitlock passed away on Monday, March 13, in Toronto after a battle with prostate cancer. He was 86 years old.
In 2013, the multiple world-record breaking octogenarian came to Concordia to discuss exercise and aging well with Louis Bherer, the scientific director of the PERFORM Centre, during Concordia’s Thinking Out Loud conversation series.
Whitlock refused the honorarium offered to him for his participation, insisting the money be put toward a fellowship for students studying health and aging.
The Ed Whitlock Award, an annual $5,000 scholarship, is given to a student enrolled in Concordia’s MSc or PhD program whose research is related to improving the quality of life of seniors through physical activity. Whitlock made a yearly donation to the award.
Born and raised in Britain, Whitlock immigrated to Canada at age 21 to pursue a career as a mining engineer. Although he competed in track and field in his youth, he only began training for marathons when he turned 40, but he continued running for decades after that. By his 70s and 80s he began breaking world records and gaining international acclaim.
Just last October, Whitlock set the latest of his many world records when he finished the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon in 3 hours 56 minutes and 38 seconds. His time broke the previous world record for the 85-90 years old category by more than 38 minutes.
Back in 2000, at age 69, Whitlock became the oldest person to complete a marathon in under three hours. Then, in 2003 he became the first person over 70 to complete a marathon in under three hours, with a time of 2 hours, 59 minutes and 10 seconds.
He bested this record a year later, turning in a time that, when adjusted for age, would trump the world record for any age cohort.
‘He inspired people from different walks of life’
In addition to his record as an athlete, Whitlock was known for his generosity, humility and droll sense of humour.
In what would become an annual tradition, Whitlock travelled to Montreal in 2014 to present his namesake scholarship in person to the first recipient, Amanda Rossi. Afterwards he insisted on taking Rossi out to dinner to celebrate.
At the end of the award ceremony, she recalls Whitlock turning to her to say, matter-of-factly, “I’m just going to go run up the mountain, and I’ll meet up with you later.”
“He was a very generous and kind-hearted person, a gentleman in every sense of the word,” she says. “He was proud of his accomplishments, but also humble. Most people would think that there’s some secret recipe for competing at his level, but he really didn’t have one — he would just do it.”
“His inspiration reached people from different walks of life,” she adds. “Of course, as scientists, we’re interested in how he has been able to perform at the level that he did, but he also showed everyday people that age is no barrier to accomplishment.”
‘Running was fantastically natural for this man’
During his 2013 Thinking Out Loud public conversation with Bherer, Whitlock quipped: “Most of the commentary on me is contained in the lifestyle sections of the newspaper and I don’t like that. I believe I’m a sportsman, and I should be in the sports section. But I can’t compete with the Montreal Canadians!”
For Bherer, Whitlock’s physical talents were of a piece with his down-to-earth lifestyle. “Running was fantastically natural for this man,” he says. “As a marathon runner, he would report the same challenges and injuries as would a 40-year-old. He showed that age does not matter, to some extent: the pain is the same, the challenge is the same, and if you really want to do it, you can.”
Well-wishers may pay their respects at a reception on Friday, March 24, from 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. at the J. Scott Early Funeral Home in Milton, Ontario. The funeral will be held Saturday, March 25, at 11 a.m. at the Grace Anglican Church in Milton.