Watford-Alvinston Road Race draws over 300 runners including the first man to win it

Krista DuChene - who was the first woman to cross the finish line at the Watford/Alvinston Road Race - speaks to the crowd on Victoria Day.

Blake Ellis/Local Journalism Initiative

There was a focus on history during the Watford-Alvinston Road Race Victoria Day. And one of Alvinston’s favourite daughters took her place on the top of the podium again.

Shawn Masters goes into the record books as the first to cross the line at the 64th annual race with a time of 58:18 minutes and Olympian Krista DuChene was the first woman crossing the line with a time of 1:07:46.

Duchene is grew up in Alvinston said it was great to be back in her hometown to participate in this year’s event. DuChene – who has retired from Olympic level competition, remembers one little boy telling her, he thought Olympians only came from large cities, and she was proud to correct him and tell him she came from the small town of Alvinston.

Cameron Finch won first in the eight kilometre race with a time of 30:09 minutes with Jackie Stanton being the first woman to cross the finish line with 34:08 minutes.

A lot of history was apart of this year’s race. Minnie Scholton Grozelle and Mary Scholton Janzen, the first women to run the race were in attendance. Co-Chair Jan Joosten passed away May 4 and he was honoured during the event.

Hylke Van Der Wal was the first to claim top prize in the Watford-Alvinston Road Race back in 1958. He went on to win in the third and the seventh year of the race.

Now residing in Saskatchewan, the 85-year-old man still returns to participate in the race and is the oldest runner in the race. “I will finish it whether I will be jogging or hobbling,” said Van Der Wal, who will complete the eight kilometre portion of the race.

“I will finish it whether I will be jogging or hobbling,” said Van Der Wal, who will complete the eight kilometre portion of the race.

Van Der Wal started running as a young boy when his family first immigrated to Canada. He attended Forest High School and would run from his home on Jericho Road to school. He would later represent Canada in track at the junior level before graduating from the University of Nebraska at Kearney. He was the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics Steeplechase champion in 1962 and the helped the University of Nebraska Antelope finishes third as a team, the school’s highest finish ever.

Van Der Wal held several college records including the indoor 800 metre run with a time of 1:53.6 minutes and the outdoor 1,500 metre run with 3:52.6 minutes. He also competed at the trials for the British Empire Games in 1962. He set a record in San Francisco at the Cow Palace, running the one mile steeplechase finishing the race at 4:25.05 at the Golden Gate indoor track meet in 1964. He hitched hiked to San Francisco from Ontario to compete. He was also named the Master Athlete of the Year in Saskatchewan in 2010.

“Anything I got in my head, I did,” said Van Der Wal. “I just love running .”
This is why he continues to travel back to Lambton County each Victoria Day weekend to compete in the Watford-Alvinston Road Race.

The idea of the Watford-Alvinson Road Race began in a peculiar place, the Watford Armoury Lounge during a Saturday night poker game.
Lorne Smith said he had been practising his running skills and declared he could be beat anyone in the room.

This claim was soon challenged by Ray Acton and Tony Koncovy. Bill Dolbear was also at the poker game and would go on to an organizer and member of the race committee for many years.

It was decided the distance of 10 miles between Alvinston and Watford would be needed to settle the argument. Victoria Day was chosen as the day of the race. The first route was from Piggy Tail Alley, just north of Alvinston, finishing at the Watford Post Office.

Van Der Wal was invited to participate and won that first race.

And while Smith couldn’t win the race as he’d boasted, his claim started what has become a community tradition.

Blake Ellis/Local Journalism Initiative Photos
Eric Hogervorst (left) of Watford strains to make it the last few feet as he ran in the eight kilometre portion of the Watford Alvinston Road Race on Monday morning. Faces were strained and muscles ached as runners finally saw the finish line. Among them were Alex Nemcek of Watford (516), Tom Doan of London (464), Peter Kerrigan of Plympton-Wyoming (478), Lisa Richards (151) and Vanessa Richards (58), and Cindy Unternahrer of Sarnia (507).

The Local Journalism Initiative supports the creation of original civic journalism that covers the diverse needs of underserved communities across Canada.