Leukemia, radiation and chemotherapy, a bone marrow transplant, and a blood clot in his intestine and neck haven’t slowed Robert Hardy down. In fact, he feels stronger than ever and is ‘walker-running’ marathons in support of The Ottawa Hospital.
Robert (Bob) Hardy has been in a fight for his life for more than 20 years. From a bone marrow transplant for leukemia, to a blood clot in his intestine and his neck, it seems nothing can slow him down. In fact, thanks to lifesaving care at The Ottawa Hospital, he’s stronger than ever and unwavering in his desire to compete in some of the most renowned marathons around the world — with his walker. Beating his personal best time, year after year, you wouldn’t suspect that this ‘Walker-Runner’ initially had only a 40% chance of survival.
A startling diagnosis
There was a time many years ago when Bob believed he only had six months to live. Feeling slightly fatigued, but healthy overall, he went for a routine physical. When his examination results returned, Bob received startling news. At only 46 years old, and long before experiencing any side effects of the disease, he was diagnosed with leukemia. Bob and his wife, Vittorina, were stunned. All they could think about was how they would tell their two young girls, Shannon and Leah, who at the time were only 13 and nine. “It was a really big shock for all of us. The thought of having to tell our children wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t something I was willing to hide from them either,” said Bob.
But if you’re looking for a woe-is-me attitude, you won’t get it from Bob. Even a diagnosis of this magnitude couldn’t bring him down. “When I told my youngest daughter, Leah, about my diagnosis,” said Bob, “she told me ‘you’re too strong to die, dad.’” That was the encouragement Bob needed to hear. It was her words that motivated him to fight back and beat the disease.
A fight for his life
Up until Bob’s leukemia diagnosis he was studying jiu-jitsu – and fit as ever. But while he waited for a match donor for a bone marrow transplant, the medication, interferon, that doctors prescribed to maintain his health was making him weak. Bob was struggling to continue with his training. “I wanted to get my black belt before undergoing my bone marrow transplant,” expressed Bob. He felt a black belt would give him the confidence he needed to begin the long road to healing and recovery. Knowing just how much this milestone would mean to Bob, his doctors allowed him to temporarily discontinue taking interferon for two months prior to Bob’s black belt test, so that he could continue training for the big day. And when that day came, he got his black belt – with honours. It was only then that he felt ready for his bone marrow transplant and the ups and downs that would follow.
A perfect match
After a year of taking interferon, a six-antigen match donor for the bone marrow transplant was found. At the time, performing a bone marrow transplant using an unrelated donor was still relatively new. But researchers discovered that patients can have a match donor outside of their family. “It isn’t common for two people to have the same set of six antigens if they aren’t blood related. I was lucky. They found a perfect match,” explained Bob. More recently, however, advances in research have allowed our experts to perform a transplant using an incompatible donor, significantly reducing the time patients must wait for a match donor. “What this means is that, where once many did not have a donor, now almost everyone has one,” explained Dr. Huebsch. “This research is truly groundbreaking.”
With a donor ready to help, the pre-transplant treatment of high doses of chemotherapy and radiation to suppress Bob’s immune system began. Four weeks later, his immune system was primed to receive the bone marrow transplant. He underwent this procedure at The Ottawa Hospital, and remained in our care for three weeks to ensure the transplanted healthy cells were multiplying – and they were.
Although doctors wanted Bob to remain in hospital for a few weeks post treatment, he was able to go home for the majority of his recovery. In fact, Bob benefited from our innovative outpatient bone marrow transplant program that has allowed thousands of patients to be treated and recover more conveniently from home. This program was one of the first in Canada and, since its inception, our patients have been surrounded by loved ones throughout recovery.
Thrombosis expertise in Ottawa
Over the course of the next two years, Bob was in and out of the hospital. “The first two years were the hardest. I had a lot of side effects from my treatment,” said Bob. One of the most severe side effects Bob experienced was blood clotting. The first to appear was in his stomach and a second in his neck. Cancer patients are often at greater risk of blood clotting as chemotherapy is hard on the veins. Approximately one in every twenty cancer patients will experience blood clotting – often a life-threatening complication. But Bob was in good hands. He benefited from the development of a tool to help diagnose blood clots quickly, known as the Wells Rule, after Dr. Phil Wells, an expert at The Ottawa Hospital. This tool is now used in emergency rooms and taught in medical schools around the world.
With so much time spent in and out of hospital throughout his treatment, Bob needed something to do to keep himself busy while he recovered. So, he got creative. “A few of us used to take our IV polls and race them down the hallways. The nurses couldn’t believe how fast we were moving!” What Bob didn’t realize at the time was racing IV polls would later spark aspirations to participate in some of the most renowned marathons.
Following treatment for the blood clot in his neck, Bob lost his sense of balance. Although he can walk short distances without an aid, he’s unable to run or walk long distance. That’s when Vittorina suggested he get a walker. “At first, I was hesitant about using a walker, but then I realized how fast I could move!” said Bob. And so began his passion for ‘walker-running’.
Bob started his walker-running career participating in the Wobbly Walker-Walk-a-thon, but soon shifted into high gear signing up as a marathoner in Run for a Reason at Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend. His marathons not only accomplished a personal goal, but also raised funds in support of The Ottawa Hospital.
A new appreciation for life
Bob’s road to recovery hasn’t been an easy one, but there hasn’t been a day he’s felt sorry for himself. Over the years he started to get stronger and complications were fewer and far between. “I am so thankful for the treatment I received. The nurses and my doctors were outstanding – absolutely incredible,” said Bob. “I’m here today, pursuing my passion for walker-runner marathons, because of them. They saved my life.”
Of course, there are still some days that Bob feels more run down than others. On those days he tries to take a walk to reminisce on how far he’s come in his recovery. “I know what it takes to get over things and to get through things. Not only did I have the very best care at The Ottawa Hospital, I had something to live for. I was able to watch my girls grow up. And now, here I am at age 69, almost 70, I’ve overcome countless obstacles and have jumped over hurdles, and I’m really quite happy with my life. I’m really very happy.”
Marketing Officer | Agente de marketing
The Ottawa Hospital Foundation | Fondation de l’Hôpital d’Ottawa
Bob Hardy, The Walker Runner completed his first ever 100-km Wobbly-Walker-Walk-a-thon for Alzheimer’s on November 16th and 17th, 2019, in a time of 12hr, 52 min.
And now for something completely different. A 59-km walker race in two days.
Bob Hardy, The walker Runner’s inaugural Glengarry 59-km Lumberjack marathon. A solo “walker race” replacing Ottawa Race Weekend’s Lumberjack, 59-km Marathon, which was cancelled due to the Coronavirus. Saturday, May 23rd and Sunday, May 24th, 2020.
ROBERT “BOB” HARDY
IS THE WALKER RUNNER
Leukemia and bone marrow transplant survivor Robert “Bob” Hardy developed walker racing skills, with a walker, after a balance condition forced him into retirement from marathon cycling. When Hardy first turned to competitive cycling to get over his cancer and get on with life, he founded a 120-km Terry Fox Bicycle Challenge in 2001, represented Canada in the 2003 and 2005 World Transplant Games, completed six 354-km Rideau Lakes Cycle Tours and six 120-km Terry Fox Challenges, missed 2008 and 2009 because of hip replacement and came back with a new shorter 50-km Terry Fox Challenge for 2010-2012. Several surgeries and complications in October 2012 resulted in complete loss of balance. Because he has no balance he has to use a walker and so he has chosen to race his walker.
Formerly HUGO Mobility
Walker Runner’ Bob Hardy 59KM Lumberjack Marathon
Video By Jeff Poissant, RGD • Evolving Media
Publishing date: June 5, 2020 • 4:13 Video
‘Walker Runner’ Bob Hardy sets new course after Ottawa Race Weekend nixed by pandemic
By Gord Holder • Postmedia
Publishing date: April 24, 2020 • 3 minute read
Life at the Competitive Edge
Robert Hardy is a mean competitor! I mean this in the nicest possible way. He doesn’t possess something as subtle as a competitive “streak.” He is a full-body, head-to-toe competitor, in spite of all the difficult health challenges he has dealt with in his remarkable life. It’s his competitive drive that helps him get him through it all. And it’s this same competitive drive that pushes him to reach out to other people and to encourage them to join him in the ride, the walk, the run, or whatever the latest action might be.
He is a “walker runner” – something that looks like a misprint but isn’t. Given his encounters with leukemia, bone marrow transplants, balance problems, and a long list of other challenges, he has taken on marathon running (yes, as in going fast against the clock). And he now does that with the aid of his slightly modified walker, hence: walker runner. Boston Marathon 2020 look out!
At his recent presentation at the Shenkman Arts Centre, “Maestro” Bob Hardy regaled the audience with stories (and video!) of episodes in his life in rock music, competitive ju-jitsu, competitive bicycle racing, competitive IV pole racing, and now competitive walker running in marathons. None of this is a side-hobby, a diversion, or just a bit of a lark. Competing means pushing himself, not giving in, never giving up hope. And, for him, winning!
His competitiveness is the drive to go beyond what you think might be possible. He uses his stories and his accomplishments to encourage others he meets along the way to join him in the task of facing all of life’s challenges, head on. He not only talks about courage, determination, discipline, commitment, independence, healthy lifestyle choices, he also makes it apparent just how much fun he has doing all of this. Despite the inevitable pain.
His is a compelling story, and he is a brave, inspiring, and very funny storyteller. His message is that competition is not always about winning (though for him it certainly is!), it’s about responding to the heath challenges that each of us will confront on our own journey through life. We entered this “race” the day we were born. And we’re still in it, even as various bits of us refuse to function as they once did. But you don’t give up. You don’t moan. You make yourself go around that track once more, up that hill again, down the course a second time, ever closer to whatever finish line we choose to set for ourselves. Oh yes, and it’s a rule that each of us must have a really good laugh along the way, no matter how much pain we might be in.
July 2, 2019.
“I just wanted to say that it was so inspirational seeing Bob out there, it helped me push that much harder, anybody that thinks they can’t run you just got lapped by a guy with a walker, take that!”
– Anonymous lady, 10KM participant
“After much discussion and because of the speed Bob has attained, a final decision has been made to give Bob The title of Walker Runner, despite the fact he is actually a Race walker.”
“Racewalking, or race walking, is a long-distance discipline within the sport of athletics. Although it is a foot race, it is different from running in that one foot must appear to be in contact with the ground at all times.”