Ace marathoner – Wounded Warriors Run secret weapon

Photos: John Penner Photography

Peter Mallett
Staff Writer

The prospect of traversing a combined distance of 800 km over eight days is a physical challenge that would daunt any runner. 

But when the Wounded Warrior Run BC (WWRBC) team set off from Port Hardy for this year’s gruelling relay-style fundraiser across Vancouver Island, they had an ace with seasoned marathon runner Yana Hempler in their ranks.

Hempler is not just any marathon runner. The former Logistics Officer of 39 Service Battalion is famous for running back-to-back marathons over successive days to benefit charity.

“I got involved in this run because I’m extremely passionate about helping others,” Hempler said. “This is a very important cause to be involved in because many people doing these jobs are regularly exposed to trauma while protecting our communities and serving our country, so helping them is extremely important.”

The former soldier is like a superhero when knocking off successive marathons of 42.19 kilometres as if they were a walk in the park. In 2020, she ran a remarkable 12-marathon streak in 12 days in a fundraiser for the Victoria Hospitals Foundation. She topped that feat the following year by running 30 marathons in 30 days.

The WWRBC team consists of military members, veterans and first responders who conduct their run to raise awareness and benefit support programs for peers with occupational stress injuries such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

This year’s team also included head runner Staff Sergeant Daryl Baswick of Vic PD, Jason Laidman, Deputy Chief of the Victoria Police Department, Sergeant Rob Brennan of the Comox Valley RCMP, Chris Stanger, volunteer firefighter and Chief Utility Officer of Qualicum Beach, Master Sailor (retired) Raymond Hall, and Captain Nathalie Butler, a Dental Officer with the Esquimalt Dockyard Dental Clinic.

Hempler was front and centre for this year’s 11th annual run when the WWRBC team set off from Port Hardy on the northern tip of Vancouver Island on Feb 25. After stopping at multiple community centres and branches of the Royal Canadian Legion along the way, they wrapped this year’s campaign in downtown Victoria on March 3 with $108,000. Capt Zweng confirmed the team was sitting at $203,000 on March 15.

Yana Hempler participated in this year’s Wounded Warriors Run B.C.

‘Emotional journey’

This year’s team faced extreme winter weather, including heavy snowfalls and slippery footing in Woss and Nanaimo. But the stormy weather was nothing compared to the dark days many of their beneficiaries have faced, says Hempler.

“The Wounded Warrior run is an emotional journey where along the way and during our stops I get to hear other people’s challenging stories which really touch my heart,” said Hempler. “I feel privileged to hear people’s darkest and most difficult moments.”

Captain Jacqueline Zweng of the Regional Cadet Support Unit, Wounded Warrior Run BC Director, says Hempler was a perfect fit for the team.

“Yana’s marathon running skills made her our secret weapon this year and having her on our team this year was an absolute pleasure,” Capt Zweng said. “She is a rare spirit whose enthusiasm to raise funds and help people is extremely genuine and unwavering over the entire eight days of our run.”

Zweng noted how Hempler volunteered to tackle two of the relay’s most challenging legs: a hilly 19-km stretch between Nanaimo and Port Alberni and another significant grade to the top of Bear Mountain in Langford.

“Many on the team say your mind will give up before your body and Yana led by example and ran the most difficult parts of our journey with a smile on her face,” said Zweng.

With her typical zeal, Hempler seemed to relish the opportunity.

“I’m really glad that I got those two portions of the run because the challenge made me stronger and more confident in my abilities as a runner,” she said.

Hitting the wall

Hempler, 34, is a De Havilland Aircraft of Canada employee. She is the first to admit she is not a superhero in running shoes and feels exhausted like the rest of us.

In late 2022, after her 30 marathons in 30 days feat, Hempler had to step back from the sport she loved: a mysterious illness made sleeping, eating or even walking difficult.

“I got very sick and wasn’t sure if I was going to make it to my next birthday, let alone run again,” said Hempler. “It was not an easy period to get through.”

The illness was not the result of running consecutive marathons since it came on more than a year after. The doctors could not identify the cause and the uncertainty affected Hempler’s mental health.

Within a year, though, she was back to rerunning successive marathons. In 2023, she ran ten marathons in 10 Days for the Victoria Hospitals Foundation, completed the Chicago Marathon last October and then, in January of 2024, ran five marathons in five days to kick-start her WWRBC fundraising campaign.

“I was just grateful to be back doing the thing I love and running again,” she said.

She already has more marathons in her sights. The L.A. Marathon on Mar 17 and the London Marathon in April are part of her tireless efforts to raise more money for the Victoria Hospitals Foundation.

Following this year’s WWRBC wrap-up, another $40,000 in donations were made as the team inched closer to its fundraising goal of $250,000. Fundraising for this year’s run wraps up on Mar 31; those wishing to donate can visit the WWRBC website:

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