Remembering Ironman competitor, marathon runner and artist Roy Albon
Early in his career as an Ironman competitor, Roy Albon was involved in a bike crash. With a mountain goat.
It was 1999, and Albon was cycling down a steep hill at the start of a race in Penticton, B.C., when the animal darted out in front of him, recalls his wife, Julie Frost. The goat, which also took down another cyclist, walked away unscathed, but Albon suffered road rash and went into shock. “In time, he was able to laugh it off,” says Frost, and it become an inside joke between the couple, with Frost buying her husband goat-themed items.
Albon was undeterred. Not only did he finish that race in 14 hours and 21 minutes, the lifelong Torontonian completed four Ironman competitions – each consisting of a 3.86-kilometre swim, 180.25-kilometre bike ride and 42.2-kilometre run – eight half-Ironmans and more than 50 marathons.
“Walking in nature, golf, triathlons and art-making (were) his meaning makers, his sanctuaries, and they were what he excelled in,” Frost says of Albon, a graphic artist by profession. “He could draw anything brilliantly. He could swim like a dolphin, ride and run like the wind.”
The only child of Ted Albon, a chartered accountant, and Tina Bott, a medical clerk, Roy Edward Albon was born in Edmonton, England. Bott, a Dutch national who had lived through traumatic experiences in Holland during the Second World War, wanted to leave Europe, and when Albon was three, the family moved to Toronto where he attended Dunlace Public School and St. Andrew’s Middle School in North York.
In grade 5, he met Bob Laughlin and Don Reynolds, with whom he bonded over a shared love of running and adventuring. “Some of my earliest memories of Roy were the hikes we did around the ravines and valleys in the Silver Hills area of Willowdale,” says Laughlin. The trio remained inseparable for the next 59 years.
Albon’s interest in nature was cemented during the year that his family spent in Bermuda. When he was 13, his parents divorced and the devastated teen found comfort in solo sports. “He wanted to gain his own accolades through his own means,” says Frost. At his mother’s cottage on Twelve Mile Lake, Albon swam, ran, hiked and biked.
Following his graduation from Northern Secondary School and then OCAD in 1976, Albon took a job at MediaCom. He also worked as a creative director at Hart Advertising in Bermuda and in Toronto as a designer at AES Company, Howe Brand Communications and Golf Town. He frequently volunteered and took reduced-pay gigs for charities he believed in, including VIBE Arts, Second Harvest, 365Give, the Venetian Ball and the Gelato Cup in support of Sunnybrook Hospital.
His creativity extended to other areas of his life. A masterful storyteller, “he described everything like an artist, with vivid, nuanced detail, full of textures, colours and visual dimension,” says Frost. “He loved telling the stories of his Ironman races that included both the physicality and the esthetics of his experiences: the time when his tire blew in the middle of his bike race and the sound it made, told next to a story about a beautiful cloud formation shaped like an animal that he saw during his run.”
Albon was also a giver: every December, he bought frozen turkeys for the homeless. He became his mother’s primary caregiver following her ovarian cancer diagnosis in 1993, and after marrying Frost in 2002, he raised his stepchildren, Colin and Meredith Gibson, as his own.
He retired from Top Drawer Creative in 2016 but continued freelancing so he could help pay for the kids’ university educations, says Meredith. “The best way to describe him is, he was present in my life.” He bonded with Colin over comic books, movies, golf, video games and cooking. Prior to Albon’s death, Colin had asked his stepfather to be one of his groomsmen at his fall 2022 wedding.
Second to his family was his love of sport. Laughlin recalls when he, Albon and Reynolds started jogging together as boys. “It wasn’t enough for Roy to just go for a casual 5K in the evening,” Laughlin says. “He wanted to run marathons, and when marathons weren’t enough, he wanted to compete in triathlons – not just marathons and triathlons close to home, but all over the world.”
After completing his first marathon in 1979, Albon, a longtime member of the Toronto Running Club, raced in Boston, Athens, London and Bermuda. “He was always fascinated by how the body could be pushed to the limits,” says Frost. Marathons were a gateway to the world of Ironman competitions, which Frost called “an opportunity for him to challenge himself and his athleticism at premium levels.”
It was at his Ironman races and numerous triathlons that he found his community. “He used these races as a way of building and sustaining a sense of belonging,” says Frost.
A lifelong traveller, he went to Egypt to climb inside the pyramids, to Greece to admire the ancient architecture, and all over the world to compete in sport. Albon was also an excellent water skier and scuba diver, which he did in the Caribbean, Tahiti, Bermuda and the Red Sea.
He was also passionate about golf. “He was on the course the first day the golf courses opened and was golfing on the last day the courses closed,” Frost says. For many years, Albon, often with Laughlin and Reynolds in tow, golfed more than 70 games per season, walking every course. “In his 71st year, (he) could still reach par 5s in two,” says Reynolds. After retiring, Albon took a part-time job as a greensperson at Station Creek Golf Club and was a member of Spring Lakes Golf Club. At the time of his death, he was close to crossing “golfing in all 50 states” off his bucket list.
“He loved the accomplishment the most, the fact that he could meet the human challenge and push the limits of his mind, body and soul to achieve results that were, for many, unreal and surreal,” Frost says. “He loved to be outdoors, to feel the privilege of moving his body through water, air and ground. The Ironman was his trident.”