Comeback of a lifetime

PAUL FRIESEN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:23 AM ET

A little more than two years ago, Kelly Van Camp was fighting for his life after being mowed down by a stolen car while jogging on Wellington Crescent.

Yesterday, Van Camp completed the comeback of a lifetime by finishing the Boston Marathon in just over three hours, 37 minutes.

"I couldn't have been prouder," Van Camp's wife, Darlene Irwin, said from her Winnipeg home, where she watched her husband's progress on-line. "I had a couple of tears when I saw the split times. I could see the streets he was running on. And I felt like I was there."

That Van Camp was there says everything you need to know about the man and his refusal to quit.

Van Camp's wasn't the only Manitoba story in Boston, but it's probably the most inspirational.

"The spirit that made him train this hard and want to excel is the same spirit," Irwin said. "He just refused to give up."

Witnessing Van Camp's comeback firsthand was the police officer who investigated his case.

Const. Nick Paulet also happened to run Boston yesterday. While he didn't know in advance that Van Camp was running, the two happened to run into each other while registering.

"He's made a wicked recovery," Paulet said. "It's the mecca of running in North America. The greatest runners in the world are here."

But how many of them lost their house to a fire just a month before the race?

On the night of March 20th, Jeff Vince, a 61-year-old from East St. Paul, awoke to the screams of his wife, son and daughter -- and to flames engulfing their home.

He escaped by tossing his computer through his bedroom window.

"Lost absolutely everything," Vince said from his Boston hotel room. "It was absolutely devastating."

Yesterday, he was hearing the screams of hundreds of thousands of fans who line the Marathon route, as he ran Boston for the second straight year. His time, 3:51.

Did I mention he's 61?

"Running has always been a stress-reliever," Vince explained.

In a week, the running community will try to alleviate some of that stress by holding a fundraiser for Vince and his family.

"Runners are nice people," he said.

Sometimes, they just help you run those extra few steps, which leads to another mile, which sometimes leads to Boston.

Take James Popel, a 42-year-old Winnipegger who'd tried the last five years to qualify.

"In my trials to get to Boston, I've run Manitoba four times," Popel said. "I've done Tuscon, Houston, Minneapolis."

His attempt in Houston was both dangerous and comical, as Popel had a bad virus and was forced to bail out about eight miles in.

Needing medication, he turned around and got onto the half-marathon course.

A couple miles from the finish, officials saw his full-marathon bib and forced him back onto the full course. Not wanting to stop and explain, Popel crossed the finish line to cheers, a handshake from Jeb Bush, George's brother, and the announcement he was the top Canadian in the event.

He quickly came back down to earth when his doctor told him he could have killed himself running in that condition.

"I've had a long journey trying to get here," Popel said, celebrating his time of 3:41 with a beer in an Irish pub. "The crowds were amazing. They're yelling out, 'You're my hero.' You go through Wellesely College, and when do you get 4,000 girls screaming for you to kiss them? At 42, almost never.

"I don't want to call it the end of a journey. But it really was an emotional experience."

The last half mile, Popel stopped in the middle of the road, threw up his arms and just yelled.

"And then I decided I was going to walk in," he said. "It wasn't about the time."

No, just being there can make you a winner.


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