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It came way too fast!

I committed back in November to participate in the Cypress Hills High Altitude Trail Challenge as part of my journey back to health after two years of recovery following a debilitating concussion.

First, you could not have convinced me that what was originally described as a mild concussion would lead to an MRI a year after the injury still showing a micro brain bleed and bruising. It gave me so much understanding as to why my life, and that of my kids, had been so utterly shattered. A personality change,  up-levelled migraines, memory lapses, foggy brain and an inability to form words or write consistently, all led to some pretty dark moments and uncharted territory.

Second, you could never have convinced me I would ever run as a hobby, nevermind register for a 5K! I have been vocal my entire life that I despise running. I had every excuse as to why it was not for me.

My, how things change.

Just over a year ago, our Foundation was approached by a couple who had taken over the organizing of the Cypress Hills Challenge, and they wanted to donate their fundraising efforts to BFF. Through that process, we discovered some meaningful connections and have developed a strong relationship with the organizers, Kelsey and Andre Delorme.

In my role as the ED, I thought it important to represent our cause so people knew exactly what their contributions were doing. While there, I could feel the churning inside of me, compelling me to consider participating in their next run. It took until November to actually convince myself that it was the very obstacle I needed to overcome, this running thing.

Of course, there were other obstacles.

I announced to the Board that I wanted to use this whole journey as a launching pad for a new movement within our BFF community, to encourage healthy choices and ways of being. “Breaking Free for Me” or “#BF4ME” was born and I was committed, no turning back. Theo immediately commented, “No excuses,” and Dawn talked about accountability. Amber was excited that I was taking charge of my healing journey. Everyone chimed in their support and it was clear I would not (could not) back out!

Fast forward.

I may have been ready to get my butt in gear after being sedentary for two years, but a shoulder injury that caused excruciating pain when I attempted to do pretty much anything, reared its ugly head when I tried to get active.

Who knew my shoulder could inhibit my attempt to run? I tried modified exercise to try and build my strength, but nothing worked. My specialist used cortisone as a way to determine where the pain was coming from and after five failed attempts requested an MRI. He was shocked when the results came back because, after 27 years in practice, he would never have anticipated that it was osteoarthritis. I didn’t present that way, my responses didn’t act that way, but in his words, MRIs don’t lie. While it is a common ailment as we age, he told me I was far too young for this. Great.

Life goes on.

It was apparent if I wanted to fulfil my commitment to running, I was just going to have to push through the pain and do it. I went for another injection, this time hyaluronic acid, to hopefully cushion the bones to allow for pain relief and eventually some strength training. That was at the beginning of July and it took over a month for it to kick in.

I would go out for a walk/jog regardless. Walk a minute, jog a minute, while holding my arm up over my chest to limit the movement of my shoulder. I looked truly awkward I’m sure, but I was doing it. I’d decided by this time that if I jogged a little and walked a lot, as long as I crossed the finish line that’s all that mattered.

Kids say the darndest things.

Before I left on my trek to Saskatchewan, my daughter asked if I was excited. When I said no, she promptly responded with, “Lades, you used to be the most positive person I know.” My kids have called me Lady instead of Mom for several years, an endearment that has been shortened to “Lades”. Odd, I know, but I’ve grown to love our quirky family traits. Anyway, her comment jolted me for obvious reasons. I did clarify with her that my reasons were about not being ready to run the entire thing and feeling like a failure.

Augst 18th, 2018 – Challenge Day.

I woke up to sunshine without scorching heat. There was a breeze and it felt like heaven. I was in nature, I was going to attempt something I originally thought not possible, and I was ready. As ready as I could be. There was smoke, something I thought I’d left behind in Alberta. There was altitude. I really should have figured out exactly what that would mean for me. Calgary’s elevation sits at 1,045 metres or 3,428 feet if you’re not fully converted, like me. Cypress Hills’ altitude is 1,468 metres or 4,816 feet, just a wee bit of a difference! The tree roots along the path added interest and caused intense focus to my first 5K experience as well.

I crossed the finish line!

It took about 50 minutes. I jogged a little and walked a lot, but I did it, I crossed the finish line! I ended up with a companion who regaled me with safari stories. We were both so happy we’d made it and now I want to go to Africa and stay in tents where they bring you breakfast and serve you coffee!

Reflecting on the journey.

I was so happy! I had no clue how I’d feel when I was done, but boy was it amazing. For the first time in what seems like forever, I feel like I’ve actually achieved something. For me. For my kids. For my future.

My sense of failure for not being able to run the entire way disappeared. I was completely elated that through the smoke, the altitude, the trees and their root systems, I’d done something I was skeptical I’d be able to accomplish.

When Amber posted pics on social media and said mine was the face of pure joy, she nailed it. I had declared 2018 as my year of finding joy (as prescribed by one of my many doctors over the past couple of years), and at that moment I was joy-filled! The negative self-talk I am accustomed to in my head was silenced enough to let her even post a photo of me.

People need to see that smile. That moment. It is a significant indicator that through my own struggles I was able to push through the pain – both physical and emotional – to get to a better state of mental wellness. While we know that physical activity releases happy hormones and helps move trauma from our bodies, sometimes we can feel like that will never happen for us, at least that’s how it felt for me. Now I know first hand how different life can be when I pursue physical well being.

One day, one step at a time.

Driving home I wondered if I would let myself off the hook and quit walking/jogging because I’d accomplished my goal. What’s interesting is I don’t want to stop moving. My leg muscles weren’t in pain, not even a little, and I’d actually put in 17 kilometres and climbed 33 ‘floors’ when the day was done. My shoulder is no worse for the activity and in fact, I was able to vacuum my living room for the first time in at least a year.

Gratitude

When Kelsey and Andre approached us to offer the funds raised from last year’s run, none of us could have known how both of them would impact me personally in such a life-altering manner. Not only did the Cypress Hills High Altitude Trail Challenge make a difference for BFF, but I have gained two beautiful friends who have truly changed the trajectory of my life and mental/physical wellness. That’s something to be grateful for, I’d say. No emotions here…nope.