Why would someone who has never run or walked distances before sign up to do a marathon? For 17 brave souls who made up the North West Company’s Team Diabetes contingent at the 2006 Honolulu Marathon on December 10, 2006, the reasons were many, and personal.

Diabetes is a disease that hits many communities hard, and the Aboriginal community has one of the highest rates of diabetes in the country. Many team members come from communities and families where diabetes has made a dramatic impact. Training for a marathon is difficult for anyone, but for these runners and walkers, training was even more of a challenge. With many hailing from remote northern communities like Iqaluit or Arctic Bay in Nunuvut, Chisisabi in Northern Quebec, training conditions were less than ideal with poor roads and sub-zero temperatures being the norm.

“At the North West Company, we recognize the impact diabetes continues to have, especially in the north, so we set out to find a way to help,” said company president and CEO, Edward Kennedy. “Team Diabetes Canada was the perfect fit.”

For team members like Brent Bowen and Norman Howard of Chisasibi, the long months of training were all worth it. Neither employee of the North West Company had ever run, but both signed up for the program.

Bowen cites personal health concerns as a primary motivator. He started 2006 at 330 pounds and diabetes appeared on both sides of the family. “The training program started 18 weeks before the race, but I started walking, and then running, in January,” said Bowen.

For Howard, the program was an opportunity to do something for members of his and his wife’s families who lived with diabetes, as well as people in the northern communities he’s visited. “It was something tangible and achievable. I knew I could do it. I felt like I was running for everyone.”

Both Howard and Bowen, who had reached 257 pounds by December, battled the unfamiliar Hawaii heat to finish the race. Both hope to participate in the next Team Diabetes event and are proud of the buzz that’s started in the community. “A lot of people have expressed an interested in taking the challenge,” Howard noted, “so hopefully we’ll have more people to run with next time.”

Community awareness of the program grew as people saw the two local runners hitting the road.

“In the beginning we’d get the strangest looks when we were out running on the roads, but as people asked questions and became more aware of why we were out there the awareness was incredible,” Bowen said. “By the end we were getting honks and cheers when we were running!”

Fundraising awareness grew too. Chisasibi, population 4,000, raised a staggering $34,000 toward diabetes research.

Since the North West Company started their fundraising campaign in 2001, staff and customers have raised over half a million dollars toward diabetes research and support, making them the largest private contributor to the Canadian Diabetes Foundation. This year alone they raised over $200,000.

The 2007 North West Company Team Diabetes promises to be even stronger, thanks to the commitment of the North West Company, employees like Brent Bowen and Norman Howard, and the communities they serve.