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Woman from Stellarton taking part in Calgary Marathon in big way

When the Yukon flag bearer arrives at the Calgary Marathon in May, she’ll be thinking proudly of her home in the north but she’ll also have Nova Scotia on her mind.

Betty Skoke Burns, who grew up on Stellarton’s Acadia Avenue, will be carrying the Yukon flag at the Calgary Marathon this spring and she couldn’t be happier. (Submitted photo)

“Part of me will be thinking of all my family and friends in Pictou County,” said Betty Skoke Burns.

An elementary school teacher in Whitehorse for the past 14 years, Skoke Burns has been chosen as a flag bearer for Canada 150 celebrations in conjunction with the marathon, which is a qualifier for the Boston marathon. She’ll also be running the half marathon.

“I only started running three years ago, so it is very exciting and just a little intimidating. I’ve got to train very hard and considering it is February, I won’t be able to do it outside,” she said.

After Skoke Burns was nominated to carry the Yukon flag, she had to tell a selection committee why she would be a good choice.

“I told them it was a teaching experience I could share with my three daughters and all my students. I thought it would give them an example of setting a hard goal and seeing what can happen if you work hard.”

She also wanted them to know opportunities like hers are not all about winning.

“There is no chance on earth I’m going to win my race at the Calgary marathon. I’m there to finish, not to win. I’m doing something that is challenging and a little scary and I’m going to do the best I can.”

Being part of the country’s 150th anniversary celebrations is something she believes children can identify with.

“I’m teaching (physical education) this year and I have 150 students. They are going to learn about fitness but they’ll also learn about the different flags all across our country. It is going to mean more to them because I am the Yukon flag bearer.”

Skoke Burns grew up in Stellarton, the daughter of Roseanne Skoke and Paul Graham. She spent her winters figure skating, and playing soccer for the rest of the year. She met her Yukon-born husband, Damien Burns, at St. FX and after getting a teaching degree in Maine, she was hired over the phone to teach at Christ the King Catholic School in Whitehorse where she still works.

“I didn’t fall in love with the Yukon right away, the way some people do. I found it so different and so far from Nova Scotia; It took me time to realize its beauty,” she said, adding the northern lights can be spectacular.

The darkness of winter, in particular, took getting used to.

“I get the kids up in the dark and it is still dark when we get to school. By recess, this time of year, it is getting dusky and then it brightens for a few hours, but we never get full-blown sun. It is dark again by the time we leave school,” she said.

She started running to improve her fitness and general health.

“I loved sports, but got away from it over the years. I was pleased with my first race and it inspired me to keep going. I imagine anyone who gave it a shot would have done as well as I have – I’m carrying the flag for all the people who just get out there and try,” she said.

She has twice taken part in the 175-kilometre Klondike Road Relay from Skagway, Alaska, over the Gold Rush Stampede Trail and the White Pass, through British Columbia and into Yukon.

“My second time, I started at the summit near the Alaskan border. It was pitch dark, so I was wearing a headlamp and it was snowing and raining and it was rough terrain. I was alone until I passed a woman and I noticed her head was caked in snow and ice and that is the first (time) I realized mine was, too.”

Her leg of the relay was 22.5 kilometres of being “soaked and stoked.”

“I just talked to myself all the way, saying positive things like my mom would be proud if she could see me. I felt so strong mentally, I just kept running.”

Skoke Burns has run in the Dempster Highway to Dawson City Solstice Race, marking the longest day of the year, and did her first half-marathon this past summer in Vancouver.

“My time was 2:03:11, pretty good for me. I’m not expecting to beat it in Calgary. It is a qualifying marathon so incredible competition and I just want to be able to keep running until it is over.”

It won’t be all flag carrying and running in Calgary, though.

“We don’t have the details yet but we’ve been told there will be lots of activities and we’ll be very well looked after.”

She hopes her carrying the Yukon flag inspires her daughters, Angelina, Ave Maria and Stella Maris, and students across the Yukon to see what they can accomplish.

“And I know I’ll have a whole lot of friends and relatives in Nova Scotia who’ll be thinking of me and cheering me on. It will be a good story to share when I get back to Nova Scotia in the summer.”

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