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Rick Cooney finishes the Big Five

All that's left for Rick Cooney when he hits the 100-marathon mark in the next couple of years is a Goofy medal to commemorate the occasion. Cooney nailed his other prime goal when he finished the last of the big five marathons in London on April 22.

All that's left for Rick Cooney when he hits the 100-marathon mark in the next couple of years is a Goofy medal to commemorate the occasion. Cooney nailed his other prime goal when he finished the last of the big five marathons in London on April 22.

Since 2004 Coast Reporter has chronicled Cooney's exploits in the marathon world. When he was first profiled, he and fellow Coaster Carl Green had just qualified for the Boston Marathon. That event, with its high profile, is the most sought after race, according to Cooney.

The Boston Marathon is the second largest sporting event in the world after the Super Bowl. There are two ways to qualify to run: by strict timing in other marathons depending on your age or through the charitable arm of the race. Only 20,000 racers are allowed by time.

That course, said Cooney, is amazing. There are people all along the circuit, sometimes 10 deep, cheering and urging the racers on. While most of the Boston run is on the flat, there are some big hills. One named Heartbreak Hill is responsible for many runners not completing the gruelling circuit.

The next of the big five Cooney competed in was Chicago. That marathon is open to anyone who hurries to enter. The event is popular and sells out quickly.

Up next of the headliners was New York. That event is run by a lottery. You have to have connections to a tour company that specializes in marathons or pay to get into the pool.

Berlin, the fourth of the world-famous marathons Cooney ran, had its own special challenges. While anyone can get into the race, not surprisingly, the people speak mainly German and it's a long, expensive journey to get to the race.

Still, for Cooney, a history buff, racing down the same streets and under the same bridge as some of the most infamous men of the 20th century was a thrill.

Finally Cooney completed the "big five" this spring with another of his running buddies from the Coast, Paul Wright, at his side. The London Marathon resonated with the Coaster because of a pair of "Claires".

The first, Claire Squires, died while running the London event, the first woman to do so. For no reason that doctors have been able to discern, the 30-year-old woman collapsed and died in the final stretch of the race. Squires, like many of the runners, was fundraising for a cause - hers was the Samaritans. She had raised about 650 before the race. After her death, the donations have swelled to over 1,000,000 from people inspired by her.

The second, Claire Lomas, took 16 days to complete the marathon. She did it on robotic legs, necessary because of a 2006 accident that left the woman paralyzed from the chest down. Her efforts raised 83,000 for spinal research. And although the Marathon committee had originally said they couldn't give Lomas a medal for competing, they have since relented and she will receive a special award.

"These are the true athletes," Cooney said. He is in awe of Lomas' accomplishment.

Those five marathons are a drop in the bucket when it comes to Cooney's marathon memories. His toughest race was in Paris. A torrid desert wind from the Sahara made for his longest time. But as he said to his running partner and long-time mentor from Courtenay, Dr. Janet Green, it isn't every day you get to walk with 30,000 people past the Eiffel Tower.

Arguably the most inspiring of the marathons for Cooney was the Athens Marathon.

"That's where it all began," Cooney said.

His favourite marathon takes place not far from here in North Bend, Seattle. Called the Light at the End of the Tunnel, the race begins in a ski hill parking lot and proceeds for the next two miles through a pitch-black tunnel with only a pinprick of light at the end to beckon runners. Marathoners use all manner of light to illuminate their way.

"It's one of the most spectacular sights - a moving snake of light through a dark tunnel," Cooney remarked.

Once out of the tunnel, the rest of the run is downhill. "As you're getting tired, you say to yourself, 'It's all downhill from here,'" Cooney laughed.

Cooney started out running as an adult to raise money for charity in the annual Terry Fox runs on the Coast. And one of the things he likes best about marathons is that they all raise money for deserving causes. And while he's a serious runner with great times (he ran London in four hours, six minutes), the marathons, to him, are still about helping others.

And about that Goofy medal. It's earned at the end of a half-marathon Saturday and a full marathon the following day at a race run by Walt Disney World in Florida.

"And that's probably a perfect place to reach my goal," he grinned.

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