Gord Hobbins’ active lifestyle began as he was growing up in Edmonton. He was involved in hockey, soccer, and school track.

“So many hockey seasons. Mom would take two boys this way, and dad would take two boys that way. And my sister, if she would go, she would go with one or the other. So we’d conquer and divide the many ranks in the Edmonton area,” says Hobbins.

Gord Hobbins standing on his street decked out in his running gear near Crescent Hill in Calgary. Hobbins is set on finishing his 7th 100 km race in September 2017. Photo by Christine O’Brien

Despite his athletic history, Hobbins decided to attend Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) for a plumbing apprenticeship, followed by one year at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT) to complete his “ticket (degree).” During this time he worked for his father as a plumbing and gas fitter. When he finally graduated from his program in 1984, the economic downturn led him to insist that his father continue to pay him as a student, instead of a graduate.

Soon Hobbins decided to take a break from work and travel to England to visit his relatives for a few months. When he arrived there, the cousins he stayed with were training for their first marathon. Hobbins agreed to join them.

“I went out and joined them on a seven-mile trail run through the forest Eden through the Gloucester area. And believe it or not, I did survive, but I was awfully sore and stiff.”

Without any formal distance running experience under his belt, Hobbins credits his endurance to hockey and soccer training.

Upon returning home to Edmonton, he settled back into his routine but added running into the mix. “I thought, ‘Well I’ll run at least until hockey season starts,’ and then after hockey season started I thought, ‘Well no … I’ll keep running.’”

Change is good

A few years later, Hobbins was approached by some old friends, who were the managers and owners of the original Running Room in Edmonton. The couple asked Hobbins if he would be interested in being a co-owner and manager of a new store in Calgary.

After four years it became clear that the relationship between Gord Hobbins and The Running Room would soon fizzle. However, he wasn’t going to give up the store without a fight. Photo by Christine O’Brien

“I said, ‘Well I’m not working a lot as a plumber and gas fitter, and if my mum can manage a ladies’ wear store in a mall in Edmonton, I think I could probably manage a running store.’”

After just over four years of working in Calgary with The Running Room, Hobbins’ partnership with the company began to crumble. However, he wasn’t ready to give up the store without a fight.

Hobbins utilized a loophole in his contract, permitting him to exercise a so-called shotgun clause, meaning, one party within a partnership can offer their part of the business for a certain price to the other party. The other party has the same opportunity. This is designed to ensure a fair price for the business. In Hobbins’ case, the clause permitted him to buy the couple’s half of The Running Room, and open a store of his own.

Hobbins says that when he and his friends were talking about names for it, they told him that the success of the 10th Street Running Room was due to him, and he should have his name on it.

Gord’s Running Store opened in March of 1990, and Hobbins hasn’t looked back.

“It’s been an exciting endeavour,” he says. Despite frequently returning to work late at night, Hobbins insists that the job never feels tedious: “I think it’s the importance of that passion.”

This passion is also reflected in his somewhat selective memory: “It’s kind of funny — there are some customers [who] I should remember their names, ‘cause they’ve been so loyal, but I don’t. I remember all their details about their shoes,” he confides.

“I remember, ‘Yeah okay, you’re a double E, you used to wear the Saucony, then you went to the New Balance, and now you’re in the Saucony.’ They look at me and say, ‘Well how do you remember all that?’ I say, ‘Well it’s part of my business.’”

The turning point

Running is not only an integral part of Hobbins’ business, it’s also an integral part of his health.

In September of 2015, Hobbins was running his sixth annual 100-mile race in Lethbridge when he had to stop at the 70-mile mark. His legs felt uncharacteristically painful, and he recalls thinking to himself, “I better pack it in, and not try to push myself, because who knows where I’ll be the next day when the sun comes back up on the course.”

Two weeks later, while putting groceries in his car, Hobbins began to feel a tightness in his chest. After finishing his grocery haul, the tension in his chest dissipated. But, when Hobbins decided to go into work later that day, the tightness returned. With a family history of heart disease and a brother who underwent a triple bypass surgery just 10 years before, Hobbins decided to contact his family doctor. A nurse at the office suggested that due to his predisposition, he should go to the Sheldon Chumir Centre. The hospital, unlike most Calgary facilities, operates 24/7. Their cardiology services are often utilized after a referral from a family doctor and results are sent back to that doctor.

A photo from Hobbins’ (pictured right) early running career during the 80’s. Having grown up in a family that valued sports like hockey and soccer, he says it was easy to transition into a routine runner. Photo by Christine O’Brien

At the Hospital, Hobbins was treated with a “nitro-spray”, which allowed the muscles in his chest to relax. After several tests, a blood test came back positive for troponin. Troponin is a blood enzyme that indicates stress on the heart. Hobbins says in his case, the enzyme showed up six hours after he initially felt the tightness in his chest.

Hobbins was then transferred to the Rockyview Hospital. There he received disheartening news. “They said there was a possibility of a major incident happening within 28-48 hours,” Hobbins recalls. He was then told to go to the Foothills hospital, where he had an angiogram (an X-Ray of blood vessels). The results of the test concluded that the left main artery (LAD) was 100 percent blocked.

“They gave me three options,” says Hobbins. “They said, ‘Well we could do nothing, and you’d be a walking time bomb. Just rely on meds to hopefully stave off a major attack.’”

The second option was to surgically insert a metal or fabric stent into his LAD artery to prevent future blockage. A stent is a wire or mesh tube that is used to open up an artery to prevent blockage. However, Hobbins’ doctors claimed that a larger stent may not have been effective in the case of another major blockage.

That left one true option in Hobbins’ mind — the most invasive procedure: double bypass surgery.

“It was going to be the best likelihood we could return back to [my current] lifestyle,” says Hobbins.

On October 5, 2015, Hobbins went under the knife. Four days later he was able to go home, but not before asking the surgeon a quick fitness question.

Hobbins (pictured right) with a friend from his early running days. Photo by Christine O’Brien

“What’s the likelihood of returning to running?” Hobbins had asked. To Hobbins delight, his surgeon was optimistic. “He said, ‘well, you might wanna take a few strides somewhere between three to four weeks.’”

Sure enough, after three-and-half weeks, while coaching a group at the YMCA, Hobbins tried out a couple strides.

His team immediately began cheering and shouting his name, Hobbins recalls: “‘Gord’s running! Gord’s running!’”

The comeback

Hobbins began easing himself back into a routine, beginning with a run once a week. By the eight week mark, he had himself running three times a week while doing lots of walking.

11 months post-surgery, in September 2016, Hobbins ran a 100-km race in Lethbridge Alberta, confirming his recovery. “That was a big test to see how the heart would respond, and that was up and down the coolies.”

He plans to return in September 2017 to take part in the 100-mile race. “Finishing that, it’ll be my seventh finish at Lethbridge. The seventh one has been a bit of a tough challenge to get to,” Hobbins, who now takes a low dose of Asprin once a day and 1000mg of Vitamin D, explains. “I wanna get this one done, and get it behind me.”

“They said, ‘Well we could do nothing, and you’d be a walking time bomb. Just rely on meds to hopefully stave off a major attack.’” – Gord Hobbins

Hobbins was lucky enough that his regular running had created alternate paths of blood flow to his heart despite his blocked LAD artery. This meant that the front chamber of his heart was still able to receive blood flow. Hobbins’ doctor credits his collateral circulation [when the body’s circulation increases due to cardio exercise], to the delay in Hobbins’ incident; Hobbins’ brother suffered from a blocked artery in hismid-fortiess, while Hobbins did not fall victim to the genetic disorder until he was 53.

Hobbins equates the development of collateral circulation in humans, to the tendrils that develop on tomato roots when they’ve been in the ground all season searching for water in the earth.

According to his wife Cathy – who, like the rest of his family, runs and competes in races,  the running also helps keep him sane.

“He’s a pretty laid back guy so he doesn’t get too stressed when things go haywire,” she says. “And I think the long distance running keeps him grounded and he’ll take things out on a trail or on a long run, and it keeps him calm,” she says.

With a life packed with various running activities, Hobbins finds it difficult to imagine one without the store. “If I never came south from Edmonton down to Calgary, who knows. I could be still doing something with the plumbing and gas bidding. Or I may have gone on to something else,” Hobbins attests. “Maybe I could have gone into some sort of fitness training, you know encouraging people to go outside and be healthy or it could have been something with nature.”

As for the future of the running store, Hobbins says he’ll take it as it comes.

“You have to wonder if at some point in time I retire and back away sort of thing, so it could be a few years down the road. But if we happen to chance upon somebody else who wants to take over the business, then I would be open to that sort of discussion.”

Hobbins wants to ensure that his children have the same freedom to choose their futures as he did.

“Some people say, ‘Oh you wouldn’t want to pass it on to your kids?’ I say, ‘no no, unless they show a passion for it and they really wanna take it over, then we’d consider that. But at this point in time, they have other interests right now … I wouldn’t expect them to feel like they have to step into my shoes and take over the ‘family business.’”

cobrien@cjournal.ca

Editor | Hannah Willinger, hwillinger@cjournal.ca