Alumni Spotlight: Meet running man Ross Durant ’51

Running five kilometres, five times per week, every week, is a healthy regimen for anyone — but for Durant, who’s 88, it’s a particularly impressive feat.
When did you start running?

I was diagnosed with diabetes over 20 years ago, and one of the side effects of diabetes is heart disease. I had a heart attack in 2012 — in the radio room of Timothy Eaton Memorial [Church] where I volunteer — and then I had bypass surgery. When I left a six-month rehab program at the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute, they gave me a “prescription” that was very simple: “Five times a week, you’re to do 5K, and you’re to do the 5K in 45 minutes.”

So, I started running. And on the sixth anniversary of my heart attack, I ran the Toronto half-marathon [at age 85]. I’ve slowed down since then, but I still do 5K, five times a week. I walk/run now — it’s a brisk walk— and it takes me 50 to 60 minutes. 

So, you run for health and not to compete?

Every once in a while, I decide I need to do a race. Last winter, I volunteered to be a surrogate runner for my friend John Fenton [’52] in the Coldest Night of the Year 10K run when he wasn’t able to take part. In September [2021], I ran in a legion fundraiser for the veterans’ wing at Sunnybrook Hospital. And on October 9 [2021], I ran a 5K for North York General Hospital — the young people had trouble keeping up with me! 

Do you normally run alone? 

I’m part of two running groups — Runners with Heart, and Walk and Talk Diabetes — both affiliated with Toronto Rehab. I like the support we give each other.

My trainer and friend once told me that, when you’re running a marathon and you hear spectators cheering along the street, “it’s like getting your tank filled with gas.” I remember, when I was running the half-marathon, near the end of the run, a police officer on duty asked me if I was going to make it. I told him that I was 85 and that I was definitely going to make it. I said, “I think there’s just enough gas left in the tank.” So, the cop started telling people, “Give this guy a boost — he’s 85.” 

What’s next in your running plans?

In the past, I’ve enjoyed the “Army Run” in Ottawa, which has 1K, 5K, 10, 21 and 26K options, with some runners in full combat gear. My ambition is to go to Ottawa next year and do the 5K or 10K, but not in combat gear.

I’m also hoping and praying that for A-Day — maybe next year — I can run in the 5K in the morning. My ambition is to do that, and I’ll be well into my 90th year then. And I can tell you where I’m going to finish: first at the wrong end, unless someone gives me a head start of about 50 per cent of the race! That’s my prediction.

Were you an athlete at UCC too?

No. The only sports team I ever made was the swimming team. But all the students, back then, had to take part in activities such as running laps around the campus and “new boy boxing.” In your first year at the College, you had to box. There was also a steeplechase event in the spring — running around the Oval, over hurdles and then leaping over a huge water obstacle. But it was impossible to clear the water obstacle, so we’d all get very wet and cold. 

In addition to the swim team, I was on the debating team. I was on the team with Ted Rogers ’51. Ted was a great debater, and he never forgot his classmates.

Where did you grow up?

I’ve had a very interesting life. I was born in Toronto on Valentine’s Day and christened in Timothy Eaton Memorial Church. My family moved to Montreal and then, when I was age 4, my father moved the family to India. He was general manager for the RKO movie picture company — my dad distributed Snow White in India; it had the second-largest box office in the world. We lived in Calcutta, and I went to boarding school in Darjeeling.

When we left India, when I was age 8, in late 1940, we sailed from Calcutta to Ceylon, now Sri Lanka, then to Singapore. We sailed down the Singapore Strait and ahead of us a ship strayed off the path and sailed straight into a minefield [and exploded]. So, from the time we left Singapore to the time we left Manila, during daylight hours we stayed on deck the whole time with our life jackets on. And we went to bed with our life jackets on. I saw war at a very young age. 

How has the pandemic affected you and your family?

Both my wife and I had COVID in 2020, and we both recovered. My wife had a high temperature and nearly collapsed, but I caught her. I ended up in Sunnybrook on IV, because I was dehydrated, but I was never on a ventilator — and it turned out I had viral pneumonia. 

Do you think your fitness regimen helped your recovery from COVID-19?

I do think it helped me survive. And throughout the pandemic, I’ve been running. 

What do you do when you’re not running?

I finally retired at age 82 — I got lazy! I volunteer for Timothy Eaton Church, and I help raise money for a variety of charities, including North York General Hospital, “Inasmuch,”  and the Royal Canadian Legion. I’m a legion member and still involved with the legion. And I enjoy time with my family; I have six grandchildren. 

Do you have any advice for our current students?

My general advice is to live each day as if it were your last, and try each day to make this world a better place.
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