Photograph by Bob Holtsman.
It’s been a busy spring, emotionally and mentally. The kids had hockey tryouts, swimming, spring soccer, other usual extra curricular activities like music and school sports, and I accepted the position of head coach for my daughter’s rep hockey team. The interviews and podcasts to hear about my third place Boston Marathon finish continued to be, and are still, in demand. And public speaking engagements grew even more. I enjoyed Mother’s Day at my 10-year-old’s swim meet, attended our kids’ school regional track and field meet, and continued part time work as Registered Dietitian—all while resuming workouts again.
Last week I travelled back to my Lambton County home roots to do a 2-day speaking tour that would include both my elementary and secondary schools. I thoroughly enjoyed sharing my story, inspiring students with my message, back on home soil where it all began. I stayed with my high school friends, Steve and Lisa, chatting and learning about their joys and challenges of coaching. Steve was a former Lancer track and field teammate of mine who organized the tour, including his son’s and his own school where he teaches physical education. I was entertained by the students’ questions, and reminisced while driving on familiar country roads, seeing the growth and development both in and outside the classrooms. Of particular significance was getting a picture with my Lehrbass relatives at Brooke-Alvinston school, seeing the newly resurfaced LCCVI track and good high school friend Ann in Petrolia; taking a selfie with my kindergarten teacher Mrs. Koncovy; having my childhood BFF Jody and her mom at our elementary school, and last but certainly not least, seeing two very special coaches of mine — Jim McNally (hockey) and Murray Jackson (track). The tour was something Steve and I had talked about several years ago and it was everything I thought and hoped it would be. I left feeling so proud of my green and yellow Bronco, and red and white Lancer beginnings.
We then had a fairly quiet long weekend, consisting of opening our cabin, making a trip for bulk items at Costco, and hosting our church barbecue. Shortly thereafter I was feeling busy again with our spring activities. I was somewhat overwhelmed, already finding myself looking forward to quiet and simple days at our cabin where I’d restfully charge the battery for another busy year, not yet having finished this one. I had the Saskatchewan Marathon weekend up next on my calendar and for the first time found myself packing just hours before leaving. I had a 20K run to do, groceries to fetch, dinner to prep, and a bit of necessary laundry and cleaning before my drive to Pearson Airport that took two hours instead of one (with an added bonus of going to the wrong terminal). I finally boarded my flight and took a deep breath before reviewing my itinerary for the next three days.
Once we landed I was greeted by a very friendly Jan, a Saskatchewan Marathon volunteer who would drive me to my beautiful stay at what the locals would refer to as, “The Bess,” the Bessborough Hotel. It was the start of what would be a weekend of meeting lovely people and hearing inspiring stories in the Saskatoon community that I describe as a big city without a busy city feel.
Friday morning was my first event, which was a lovely breakfast with race weekend staff, volunteers, special guests, and sponsors. Some would go for an easy run, which I opted out of as it was a planned rest day. I shared a few words and was introduced to several wonderful people I would get to know more over the weekend. I took a walk around downtown, including a peek at the Meewasin Trail situated directly behind The Bess. Shad, my contact for the weekend, picked me up to take me to the Marafun Pep Rally at a local school. A record number of kids, 1600 in fact, were planning to run 2.2K on Sunday after weeks of preparation and training. I walked into a dark gym with flashing lights, party music and a crowd of energetic children wearing their green and yellow Marafun t-shirts. I met Tarrant Crosschild who was leading the pep rally with his own kids, and fellow 2016 Olympian, wrestler Jillian Gallays. Jillian and I each shared a short message about our lives as athletes, signed countless autographs, and got the kids tuned up even more.
From there I went for a most delicious lunch with Shad at a funky cafe, “D’Lish by Tish” before heading to the Brainsport running store for Saucony giveaways to those who wanted to drop in to meet me. Store owner and local running legend, Brian Michasiw gave me a tour of the newly renovated building and I got to meet Tarrant’s wife, Celeste. I found an immediate connection with her, not necessarily because of our shared running and faith commonalities, rather our roles as moms. Before I knew it, I was telling her about my spring, continuing to feel less overwhelmed while getting to know another wonderful Saskatoon native. At 5 p.m. I was picked up by Peter Goode to have another delicious meal, this time with some Saskatoon Road Runners Association (SRRA) members at a hidden gem in the middle of the University of Saskatchewan campus. Also joining us at dinner were two lovely 12 year old young ladies who were apparently quite excited to meet me. The food and conversation was again enjoyed and we got some nice pictures together before heading to the volunteer appreciation/training night of a few speeches and the beautiful drum blessing. I delivered a short message, thanking those in attendance for their tremendous efforts and was back in for the night by 9 p.m.
The next morning I finally made my way along the river, down the gorgeous Meewasin trail for an easy 10K run with some strides where I saw Tarrant’s daughter also out for a run. I then had breakfast at the hotel, some time on my computer to catch up on some work, and was picked up by another wonderful volunteer, Theresa, for an appearance at the race expo. I later returned for a short rest at the hotel before heading to the pasta dinner where I would be the guest speaker, my main event for the weekend. Olympic Marathoners, Dylan Wykes and Reid Coolsaet were guest speakers a few years ago. The past dinner was a sold-out event and yet another well-organized race weekend activity with good food and good people. My audience was quiet and captivated as I took them through my journey of recreational to Olympic marathoning with a few broken bones and kids along the way. I shared how I was feeling rejuvenated by my Saskatchewan race weekend experience so far, which hadn’t even yet been 48 hours. The people of Saskatoon were giving more to me than I felt I was giving to them. I was introduced by race weekend sponsors and partners, including CBC’s, Leisha Grebinski, who had previously interviewed me about my Boston Marathon. The hockey connection was explained, including my time playing at the University of Guelph and racing in Boston while Toronto was competing against the Bruins in the NHL playoffs. Those listening to the CBC interview had heard about the heart-felt thoughts and prayers I had for the people of Humboldt while I trained for and raced to my astounding third place finish.
I was a bit emotional at times when sharing my message at the pasta dinner, as earlier that day I had finally watched the message given by the green and yellow Humboldt Broncos team chaplain at the memorial. In the short time I was in Saskatoon I had already heard some of the personal stories about the terrible bus crash that claimed the lives of 16 people. In the team chaplain’s “Where was God?” message, through his own tears, he struggled. In the beginning he said he “walked up on a scene that I never want to see again to sounds I never want to hear again” and explained what the entire country felt, that we hurt with them. Lastly he concluded with, “A scar is something that is healed but still there. This isn’t going to go away. It’s not going to be as raw. Can we heal? Yes. Will the scar be there? Yes.” and he walked away.
I wrapped up my own message with an explanation of my experience in Boston where I again proudly sported green and yellow, the colours for this year’s Saucony race kit. A few more pictures and autographs and I was back in bed again shortly after 9 p.m.
On Sunday morning I packed up my belongings and headed to Diefenbaker Park where I would see many of the runners off, do the start gun for the 1,600 Marafun runners, and race the 5 km myself (17:33) as the middle of a 3-part workout. After the race I continued to have pleasant conversations with my new Saskatoon friends while taking a few additional pictures with fans. I was happy to see Miniota’s Shane Anderson and Birdtail Sioux’s Caleb Saulteaux again after getting to know them at the expo and pasta dinner. It was because of Tarrant’s inspiring program that these two young men trained for, earned money to pay for, and drove 6 hours to participate in races that day. Tarrant, a runner and past Saskatchewan Marathon champion, husband, and father of four overcame addiction, depression, and near suicide through Teen Challenge, a faith-based rehabilitation program. He conducts faith-based running clinics across the province through, “Child of the Cross,” bringing a message of hope and restoration to communities challenged with high suicide rates and mental health struggles among youth in northern Saskatchewan and beyond. A group of 15 runners from Cumberland House would also travel for hours, from Manitoba, to race that day as a result of Tarrant’s program.
I said goodbye to my new friends, stopped back in to D’lish by Tish for a delicious take-out meal, and was dropped off by Shad at the Diefenbaker Airport. I began collecting my thoughts, feeling incredibly grateful for the people who gave me a weekend that left me feeling renewed and refreshed. Thank you, Saskatoon. You were truly amazing.