I am often asked when I started to run. I have yet to figure out how to answer to this open-ended question. In truth, I have been running about as long as I have been talking and walking. My parents used to “trick” my sister and me into getting ready for bed by making it a race. We had an invisible start line in our family room and the first one in bed was the winner. They were clever, those parents of mine!
I started running more “officially” in grade school. We had the requisite Canada Fitness Testing which included a series of tests: sit-ups, push-ups, flexibility testing, sprinting, and my favourite, the endurance “mile” test. I was in grade two when we did our first test. I lost the endurance race to a boy. I still remember him and to be honest, when he joined our high school cross country team as part of his basketball conditioning, I was sure to seek revenge (in case you are wondering, yes, I beat him). After losing to this boy in grade 2, I found my mom dead-heading petunias in our back yard and asked her if she had “one of those watches with a second hand on it”. When she wondered why, I explained that I wanted her to time me while I ran up the hill to the end of our street and back. I always knew that hard practice was key to becoming a faster runner. I just did not know at the time what real training was, how hard it would be, and how far it could take me.
Although I loved running, my first real love was soccer. In grade 8, Mike Van Tighem, who was to become my longtime coach, showed up on the sidelines of my one of my games. He had been trying to track me down, and I had been ignoring his messages. He had seen me run local cross country and track meets in elementary school and wondered if I would join the high school cross country team. Our high school team was the defending Provincial Champion and was in need of some young blood. I reluctantly agreed, and only attended practice sporadically; at that age I preferred traditional team sports, such as soccer. However, I did love racing, and was sure to join the team for competitions.
Over the next few years I made running a higher priority in my life, and I started to have very encouraging results. I had a few years when I seemed to set a personal best every time I raced and was dominate in most racing scenarios. After fifteen years of racing, I have since learned how hard it is to continue to achieve personal best performances. In grade 9, I was the youngest (at the time) girl to win the individual BC Cross Country Championships, and I was able to defend my title the following year. However, the older and faster I got, the more pressure I put on myself: I collapsed at my two most important races in grade 11 at both the Provincial and National Championships. I was confused and devastated. I realized that I needed to take a step back and re-evaluate my perspective on racing and I chose to run and compete because I loved it, and despite the pressure, I wanted to do my best.
Life gives us many choices. The lessons learned early, but they were paramount to my career. I probably would not have continued to run if I had not learned how to manage my nerves and expectations. I have learned that while is is it common to feel nervous and anxious before a competition, the ability to focus this energy will bring out top performances. I think every great runner, athlete, and performer has to constantly balance the internal drive to succeed with her own perspective on what really matters. It is not life or death.
After graduating from Kelowna Secondary School, I attended Stanford University where I was surrounded by amazing people, and was given a fantastic opportunity to pursue athletics and academics. As much as I loved the experience, the California living and the academic challenges, I did not come close to achieving my expectations for my running. I struggled with injuries for the first couple years and then had trouble getting “back into the groove”. My confidence was low at times and I wondered if I belonged. The spark did come back to me towards the end of my Stanford years and I made a commitment to myself: I was going to be an Olympian. I recall writing affirmations on the back of school notes while studying. It said “You will be an Olympian” and listed five ways that I was going to make it happen. I had no idea I was only two years away from turning my vision into reality; that being said, I have new notebook affirmations taped to my heart.
Upon graduation from Stanford with a degree in International Relations, I decided to pursue my dreams of Olympic and World Championship running. I re-located to Calgary to re-unite with Mike Van Tighem as my coach and to pursue a Master’s in Environmental Planning. Within the year, I had significant personal bests in all my events. My dream came true when I won the 2004 Canadian Track and Field Championships in the 1500m and sealed the deal: I was going to Athens as an Olympic athlete!
I will pre-empt your next question: the Olympics did not go as planned. No excuses, it just did not go my way. I can’t wait to get back in 2012 and seek revenge – just like I beat my grade 2 rival later in high school! Since 2004, I have continued to have up and down years and performances. Injuries, including a serious stress fracture interfered with my preparations for the 2007, 2008 and 2009 seasons. I was able to compete parts of those years, but not to the level I expected. After a second place finish at the 2008 Olympic trails, I missed my final qualifying time by 0.07 seconds! That was devastating.
Despite the disappointments, I have had personal satisfaction, such as finishing my Master’s Degree with a thesis on the “Urban Regeneration of Cities through hosting Olympic Games”. I would love to be part of the urban planning team for a major sports event. I also married my wonderful husband and adopted my goldendoodle, Max, who is a great running partner. In 2009, we moved from Calgary to my hometown of Kelowna BC, where I train and work part time as an urban planner.
I have a lot of hunger for the next two years. Running has brought me some amazing opportunities and experiences: I have traveled beyond my expectations and been inspired by many amazing people. I have competed with my heart, lungs and legs until muscles and organs I did not know existed were about to explode. I will not lie and say it has all been easy. But the love and the fire is still there, and I grateful to be living my life as a Canadian Runner.
I would love to hear your story, too. Please feel free to share it!
Personal Best Performances
800m – 2:02.69
1500m – 4:02.64
3000m – 8:51.38
5000m – 15:12.12
5 time All American at Stanford University and School Record Holder in 800m and 1500m
Bronze Medalist at World University Games in Daegu, South Korea (2003)
Bronze Medalist at World Cross Country Championships, Team Short Course, in Brussels, Belgium (2004)
Canadian National Championships Record Holder, Victoria, BC (2004)
Canadian Champion in 1500m in 2004, 2009, 2010
Canadian 10 km Road Race Champion (2009) and Sun Run Champion (2010)
12 time Canadian National Medalist in Track and Field and Cross Country (2003 – 2010)