Belgian aged 103 walking marathon to raise funds for COVID-19 research

103-year-old Belgian oldest former general practitioner Alfons Leempoels poses in his garden intending to cover a distance equivalent of a marathon to raise money for scientists researching the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Rotselaar, Belgium June 9, 2020. REUTERS/Yves Herman

A 103-year-old Belgian doctor is walking a marathon around his garden in daily stages to raise money for research into the new coronavirus, inspired by a centenarian who became a hero in Britain for clocking up the charity miles with a walking frame.

Alfons Leempoels, a retired general practitioner, started his 42.2 km (26.2 miles) journey in the municipality of Rotselaar, north-east of Brussels, on June 1 and plans to complete it on June 30.

Every day he walks 10 laps of 145 metres (159 yards); three in the morning, three at noon and four in the evening. To avoid losing count, he throws a stick into a bowl every time he completes a lap.

103-year-old Belgian oldest former general practitioner Alfons Leempoels shows sticks corresponding to each distance he walks in his garden intending to cover a distance equivalent of a marathon to raise money for scientists researching the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Rotselaar, Belgium June 9, 2020. REUTERS/Yves Herman

Leempoels said the idea came to him when he saw World War Two veteran Tom Moore, 100, strike a chord in Britain by raising the equivalent of more than $40 million for the country’s health service by walking around his garden.

“My children said that I can walk at least as well as Tom Moore and on top of that I am 103 years old,” he told Reuters.

“So they suggested that maybe I should do something. My granddaughter had just run a marathon and as a joke I said: I will run a marathon.”

Leempoels hopes to raise funds for the hospital attached to the nearby university of Leuven, where researchers are working to find a cure for COVID-19.

103-year-old Belgian oldest former general practitioner Alfons Leempoels notes the distances he does everyday in his garden intending to cover a distance equivalent of a marathon to raise money for scientists researching the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Rotselaar, Belgium June 9, 2020. REUTERS/Yves Herman

So far he has raised just over 6,000 euros, according to Marlies Vanderbruggen of Leuven University, and has covered about one third of the distance of a marathon.

Leempoels recalls people falling sick during the 1957-58 Asian flu pandemic, but recovering much more quickly than those affected by the novel coronavirus in recent months.

“As a doctor you feel touched by this and that’s why I was happy now that I might be able to contribute something to fight the coronavirus,” he said.

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