Champion Terry Fox Run -- UPDATED with video!

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Helen (Grandma) Sanderson's smile is unmistakeable as she poses with daughter Edna Clark.

Click here to watch CTV's story from Champion School

Click here to see the Vulcan Advocate story

Thursday's run was Helen (Grandma) Sanderson's 18th event in support of cancer research

Every year, since 1997, Helen Sanderson has led the students and staff of Champion School out the doors of school to begin their annual Terry Fox Run.

Known as Grandma Sanderson to legions of people, she plans to be there again Thursday for this year’s event raising money for cancer research. It’s no small feat. She celebrated her 100th birthday in February.

“It’s so healthy,” she says, of her Terry Fox Run participation. “It keeps me in shape.”

For the past few years, she’s led the students from the confines of her wheelchair, with help from her daughter Edna Clark, a former principal of Champion School. Before that, she used a walker. In earlier years, she walked the route with the best of them. For many years, she was the top fundraiser, going door to door, pinning a Terry Fox banner to the front of a friend’s small John Deere tractor and driving the streets of Champion to raise money and awareness.

Clark says her mother has always been like the Energizer Bunny, unstoppable and full of a spirit and zest for life.

Though physically frail and now living in long-term care in Vulcan, Sanderson was looking forward to the school event, for the chance to be surrounded by the children she loves.

“It makes me feel so clever for ever and ever and ever,” she says, in a soft sing-song voice. “Of course, they (the students) are the cutest things on earth.”

A former school teacher who taught at the first public kindergarten in Calgary in the early 1940s and served as the first teacher when a kindergarten program came to Champion, Sanderson has always had a heart for children and the community.

Her scrapbook holds a copy of a teaching contract for 1934-35 with the Sanderson School District, near Champion. The pay was $785 per year and included her doing janitorial work.

Although she briefly left the Champion area to work in Calgary (a letter of reference when she applied for the Calgary job was signed by Roy I. Baker, for whom R.I. Baker Middle School in Coaldale is named), she was drawn back to her hometown by love. She married Jack Sanderson in 1946.

Sanderson says the best advice she received was from her own mother, who lived to age 102: “Never pay attention to what anyone says. Just get in and do it.”

She took her mother’s advice and was a force on many fronts, whether as a teacher, a volunteer or community booster.

Clark says after retiring from teaching, her mom would visit Champion School daily to read with students. When age forced her to move to Vulcan, she took to reading with students at Vulcan Prairieview Elementary.

She created a group called “the Sanderson Army,” that would sing to residents of seniors’ homes, a group that continues to this day.

For new Champion School Principal Greg Rollingson, Thursday’s visit will be his first opportunity to meet Grandma Sanderson, “an individual so dedicated to being a good example of responsible citizenship.”

“Everything I’ve heard about her, people tell me with a smile,” he says. “We at Champion School are extremely honoured to be associated with someone who is so positive in the community. We’re certainly happy to have her lead us in such a good cause.”

Rollingson said the Terry Fox Run unites so many people whose lives have been touched by the suffering and tragedy of cancer.

“It doesn’t matter who you are, we can all be on the same team,” he says.

Among the children Grandma Sanderson was leading were four of her own great grandchildren who attend school in Champion.