Hundreds of participants are getting their steps in this weekend for a good cause.
The 13th annual Kidney Foundation of Canada March is returning after two years of virtual events.
Beginning bright and early at the Millarville Racetrack on Sept. 9, participants will walk 100 kilometres over three days through Kananaskis, Turner Valley, Black Diamond and Bragg Creek before finishing at Winsport Canada Olympic Park in Calgary.
Okotokian Ilona Stewart has participated in every march the Kidney Foundation has held, at times as a crew member and then a walker — even the virtual ones. She said her dedication to the cause was meant to be after she heard an advertisement on the radio more than a decade ago.
"They were announcing it right after we found out that my grandson to-be — he wasn't born yet, it was during an ultrasound — had a problem with his right kidney," she recalled. "And I thought, 'Wow, this is a sign, I have to do this.'"
Years later, Stewart was walking in a march when she was told her son was headed into surgery. He aspirated and was put in a medically-induced coma for a week where he relied heavily on a dialysis machine to keep him alive.
That son now joins her in the annual event, where they honour the work of the doctors who kept her loved ones alive and the challenges faced by her young grandson, who ultimately underwent surgery to remove his right kidney at the age of four.
"He has been my inspiration because I saw what he went through," said Stewart of her nearly 13-year-old grandchild. "All the doctor visits and the care he was receiving the whole time it was just amazing.
"I had to give back and help."
Alongside march veterans will be newcomers, all joined together by a shared sense of community.
Griffin Pell is walking in the march for the first time this year, in hopes of raising awareness for the cause which is near and dear to his heart.
His father is in need of a kidney and a pancreas to improve his health, which has been damaged by renal failure and diabetes.
"We're still on the hunt," Pell said of the search for a donor.
Raising awareness of the familial impact of kidney disease and failure is something he hopes to accomplish throughout the three-day, 100-kilometre trek.
"I hope more people realize how big of an impact kidney failure can have on a family," said Pell. "Watching my dad slowly shrivel up and then blow up because of all the water retention and stuff, it affects you mentally."
Kidney disease is the leading cause of death in Canada and is often called the 'silent killer.' The Kidney Foundation said four million Canadians have chronic kidney disease or at risk for it and there is currently no cure for the illness.
More than 75 per cent of people across the country awaiting an organ transplant are in search of a kidney donor.
The average wait time for kidney transplant is more than four years.
According to the foundation, the march has raised $11.5 million for kidney disease prevention, health education and organ donation initiatives over the last 12 years.