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Her 900K run to raise awareness for diabetes got a boost from a running partner — who’s 71

When Tamara Beardy’s daughter Kenya was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 9, the “scary” diagnosis left her scrambling for information about the disease. 

“I thought I was gonna lose my daughter. I didn’t fully know what the diagnosis meant,” said Beardy, who is a member of Tataskweyak Cree Nation. 

The family was living in Thompson, Man., and Beardy said she found it hard to access support in the northern town.

“Because I couldn’t find resources, I had to make a decision to relocate my whole family to Winnipeg to go educate myself.”

Beardy said she’s grateful they made the move. More than a decade later, Kenya is doing well and has a daughter of her own. 

Now Beardy and her family are running 900 kilometres from Tataskweyak Cree Nation (Split Lake), about 100 kilometres east of Thompson, to Winnipeg to raise awareness about diabetes and try to help others. 

Along the way they picked up a companion eager to share the burden.

Nelson Beardy, 71 — no relation — heard Tamara doing an interview on the radio and decided to join her run in Thompson. 

“It’s such a blessing to us, ’cause he helps get the wood, he helps hold things… and most importantly running and walking with me every day,” she said.

Nelson picks a wildflower on the side of the road
Nelson Beardy, a 71-year-old marathon runner from York Factory First Nation, surprised Tamara Beardy after he told her he would join her run for diabetes all the way to Winnipeg. (Submitted by Tamara Beardy)

They walk and run anywhere from six to 12 hours each day and always start and end the day together, she said.

During the two weeks they’ve been running together, they’ve enjoyed finding out the things they have in common. 

“We’re both Cree. We love to jig. We have a love for running; we love humour,” Tamara said.

She calls Nelson a “godsend” and Nelson’s come up with a nickname for her, Maran, because she’s “a ma and she runs.” 

Nelson, a member of York Factory First Nation, said running is a way of life for him and although Tamara’s run is long, it’s easier than his usual treks through the wilderness.

“I get more support from people along the way that give us Gatorade, water and all that,” Nelson said. 

Tamara and another person run away from the camera holding a flag promoting diabetes awareness.
Several family members and friends have joined in on Tamara’s run to raise awareness of diabetes. (Submitted by Tamara Beardy)

As for running nearly 800 kilometres at 71, “it’s all a state of mind,” he said.

“I don’t even think about my age. I don’t even think about the kilometres I’m gonna do. I think about the good things in life. I think I’m young.” 

Running with a purpose 

Tamara left Tataskweyak on Aug. 13 and plans to arrive in Winnipeg by Sept. 2.

Along the way she hopes to inspire others to take up walking and running, and she is trying to raise $1,500 to create a walking path in Tataskweyak.

In Winnipeg, Tamara became a nursing assistant. She now works with the University of Manitoba as a research co-ordinator, looking at diabetes prevention in youth. 

“I’m just very blessed and honoured to be doing that work and to be working for my own people,” she said.

About 17 per cent of First Nations people living on-reserve have Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes while about 5 per cent of non-Indigenous people do, according to a 2011 report from the Public Health Agency of Canada.

Tamara knows about its prevalence first-hand — multiple family members have diabetes and her cousin died about six months ago after being on dialysis due to his diabetes — but said some people still struggle to access proper information. 

Nelson and Tamara stand in front of a sunset holding a sign promoting their run for diabetes awareness.
Nelson Beardy joined the run in Thompson, Man., and promised Tamara Beardy he’d run with her all the way to Winnipeg. (Submitted by Tamara Beardy)

Through this run, she said she hopes people learn “to feel important” and manage their diabetes better.

“A lot of times, our First Nations people, they hide behind the disease or they hide it and complications arise faster than they need to,” she said.

But encouraging communities to be proactive is just part of the solution. 

“Our systems are failing us. There was a lack of resources when my daughter was diagnosed at nine and that was 11 years ago. How much have we improved? I don’t think we’ve improved that much,” she said, adding she would like to see an endocrinologist based in Thompson. 

She also said it would be nice to see better education on healthy eating, but even more importantly, more affordable healthy foods in northern communities. 

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