Antonie Kaiser, known to hundreds of city runners as Tony and often cited as an inspiration to those living healthy lifestyles, died in hospital Tuesday night surrounded by friends and family. He was 78.
The retired X-ray technician was a fixture in the local running and swimming communities and known as a tireless advocate for healthy living. He competed in 30 marathons dating back to 1981 and developed a specific program of aquatic exercise he would go on to teach at both Fountain Park Recreation Centre and Servus Credit Union Place.
But above all, Kaiser will be remembered for his indefatigable spirit, his dynamic, outgoing personality and the thousands of kilometres he pounded into the pavement around St. Albert.
“It made him feel good. It was just, it was spiritual,” said daughter Diana Wright of her father’s love for running. “He meditated, he prayed for people. He could think and loved the rush of marathon running and coming over that finish line.”
Kaiser’s love of running began in Holland where he was born in 1931. With a desire to compete in races but no car to get there, he and his friends would ride their bicycles to the race, run and then ride their bikes home, said John Jones, co-manager of the St. Albert Running Room.
“He was just very passionate about living a healthy lifestyle and running was a part of that for him,” Jones said.
Kaiser came to Canada in 1956 and a week later married his wife Meta in Winnipeg. He worked as an X-ray technician in Swan River for 26 years where his love of fitness continued. He became the manager of the Brandon Sportsplex, then moved to Wetaskiwin to run the local pool. It was during this time Kaiser successfully introduced his unique style of aquatic exercise, known as Karataquatics, developed during his years in Manitoba.
“He took karate [with his son] Ron and … because he loved the pool and thought wouldn’t it be cool to incorporate karate in the water,” Wright said.
But Kaiser’s first love, besides his wife and family, was running. He ran his first marathon in 1981 and would finish 29 more in his life. Along the running path he became good friends with Running Room founder John Stanton, who in turn sponsored Kaiser as a member of the company’s “elite” team.
“When people think of the elite team, they think of the fastest but we sponsored Tony because he was such a marvellous person for running and the Running Room.”
Kaiser started giving motivational speeches to clinics at the St. Albert Running Room.
“They were inspired by Tony,” Stanton said. “Here was this vibrant, elderly statesman of the community to help inspire them and it was that effervescent enthusiasm towards not just running, but life.”
Kaiser’s speeches became so popular he was asked to give one at his last marathon in Regina at the age of 76 in front of 1,100 people. His persistence and dedication rubbed off on his family as well, Wright said.
“I run a little bit and I would be out and say to myself, ‘I can’t finish this,’ and I would say ‘Dad would do it, so I could do it.’”
After moving to St. Albert, Kaiser became a fixture at both Fountain Park and Servus Place. Edith Martin, the city’s aquatic services manager, hired Kaiser in 2004 to teach his Karataquatics program.
“He really inspired hundreds of patrons over the years to keep active and I truly believe he helped to keep many people out of the doctor’s office and out of the hospital because he had so many loyal participants. He was such an inspiration.”
Remembered as “one of the first people who signed up here,” Kaiser was also a staunch supporter of Servus Place, according to fitness and wellness programmer Melanie Gale. She hired Kaiser to teach water aerobics classes at Servus for senior citizens.
“It started with five people and now we have 25 to 30 people every week. He was a really strong advocate of being in shape, of being healthy.
“He represented fitness and wellness.”
Kaiser’s dedication to fitness also saw him overcome illness. In 1994 he was diagnosed with cancerous growths in his bladder and over the next 10 years, endured five procedures to have them removed. In September 2005, Kaiser received a medal after running marathon number 26 in Regina. He engraved it and presented it to his urologist, Dr. Michael Allred, as a token of his appreciation.
“This medal goes to my doctor,” Kaiser said at the time. “What am I complaining about? If not for him, I wouldn’t be running.”
Approximately 18 months ago, Kaiser was diagnosed with inclusion body myositis, a muscular condition that mimics amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Even as he grew progressively weaker, he still tried to stay active when his body would allow by walking around the house. Stanton, who ran with the Olympic flame during the cross-country relay, brought his torch to Kaiser’s house one day.
“He was still upbeat, still positive, still thinking about improving and getting better,” Stanton said.
Gale and staff members from Servus Place would also visit frequently. “Even when he couldn’t move, he would be so positive. So this is a big blow.”
Kaiser is survived by his wife Meta, his children Ron, Diana, Tory and Carolyn and 14 grandchildren. A memorial service will be held Monday at 2 p.m. at the St. Albert Funeral Home.