Doffing his Canada cap in acknowledgement as the courtyard at his Newmarket retirement residence rang with cheers, claps and shouts of "Yay, George", 99-year-old George Markow let the reality of his accomplishment sink in.
The Second World War veteran took the last lap this morning to meet his goal of walking 100 kilometres by his 100th birthday next April to raise money for COVID-19 research for Southlake Regional Health Centre and Sunnybrook Research Institute.
His family, Roxborough Retirement Residence friends and staff, a hockey celebrity, and a plethora of television cameras were there to celebrate the feat.
“I’m overwhelmed,” the soft-spoken Markow told NewmarketToday, as tears filled his eyes. “It’s great.”
“He’s in seventh heaven,” said Sylvia Perkins, Markow’s daughter, as she, too, fought back emotions.
To log his 100th kilometre, Markow donned a customized hockey jersey — with No. 21 for his birth year, 1921, and his name emblazoned on the back — presented to him by Toronto Maple Leaf Zach Hyman.
“It’s pretty special to meet him today, it’s an incredible day,” said Hyman. “He’s an inspiration to all of us. At 99, it’s pretty incredible for him to be so determined and motivated.
“A huge thank you from us to you for what you’re doing and inspiring everyone.”
The Maple Leafs will be making a donation to help Markow reach his fundraising goal of $100,000, Hyman said.
Since launching his initiative last April, inspired in part by grandson Cameron Perkins, a paramedic in Muskoka, Markow and his walker have lapped the garden pathway more than 1,500 times.
To date, he has raised close to $48,000 toward his GoFundMe campaign.
“I can’t even put into words how proud I am of him and his accomplishment, all to raise money for COVID-19 research,” said Perkins, as a crowd of media surrounded them.
“Thank you, Ontario, thank you, Canada, you’ve been so kind and warm to my father, my parents, over the years. He is so thankful for this country, and for what this country has given him, and (for) this wonderful life that he’s made here.”
“He’s a survivor!” she added with jubilation.
His effort and determination have been an inspiration to many throughout the pandemic, and his story captured widespread attention in national media.
The Longtime Leafs fan said he was thrilled to receive a video message of congratulations from his all-time favourite player, Darryl Sittler.
“I feel for sure I could do another 50k,” Markow told NewmarketToday, adding he’s delighted several other residents have been joining him on his laps around the courtyard.
He credits his long life, in part, to his commitment to staying healthy by walking and running, and he also enjoys a good game of chess to keep his mind active.
Markow has faced much adversity in his life, captured in his memoir My Not So Ordinary Life, which begins with his early years in Communist Russia in the farming and fishing village where he was born on April 14, 1921.
He was drafted into the Russian army at 19, and was ultimately captured by the Germans, enduring years of starvation and mistreatment. He managed to escape in the spring of 1945, and with the help of friends, he was able to survive until the war ended.
Markow and his wife, Lydia, started with very little after emigrating to Canada in 1947, and eventually, he was hired by Ford in Oakville, where he worked until retiring at age 66 after 32 years with the company.
You can support Markow by donating here.