It all starts in high school…

As long as I can remember, I have loved to race.  As parents often resort to bribing their children to meet certain goals (going to bed, eating vegetables, not screaming in grocery stores…), mine learned from an early age that I responded well to running competitions against my sister. And, since I was the eldest and my younger sister followed my lead most of the time, they really only need to manipulate me to get us both to behave.  Thus began the nightly “race to bed” competition.  We would line up on the imaginary start line in our family room and race across the room, up a half flight of stairs, through the kitchen, up another flight of stairs to our bedrooms.  The first person in bed was the winner.  I had three major advantages that protected my victory streak: I was older (although not really bigger!), I was very competitive (27 years later we still have the same pre-race expressions), and, my bedroom was closer to the top of the stairs.  Nevertheless, those wins were very important to my early running career!

The most important race for 2 and 4 year olds - to bed!

I started racing more seriously and officially in grade 8 for my Kelowna Secondary School OWLS Cross Country team. Trading my thermal long underwear uniform for a school jersey and bright aerobic tights, I had my work cut out.  In BC, all grade 8 through grade 12 students race in an “open division” so I remember being in complete awe of the grade 11/12 runners.  I had great respect and admiration for them and was reluctant to challenge my older role models, especially my grade 12 teammate, Gillian Moody, who 10 years later, was again a teammate at the 2003 Pan Am Games (she for triathlon, me for track).  With 250 runners and limited spots on the start line, each school lined up in order of fastest to slowest runners; therefore, as the consistently fourth place finisher at earlier races, I was 4th runner from the start line.  This was a foreign and confusing concept to me at the time and I remember asking my coach if I had to stay in 4th place on my team the whole race?  He was very adamant that I should race as hard as I could and not to worry what the other girls on my team were doing.  So I did and surprised myself with a top 10 finish that led our team to the team Championship title.

The next year I was not quite so naïve, and planned to improve my position from the previous year.  I was lucky because once again an older teammate, Jennifer, was a strong runner and I stuck to her like glue.  She shot off the line into the lead. So I followed on her heals.  By the second loop, Jenn was fading a bit and so I decided to keep the pace rolling.  I remember singing a song in my head as I splashed through the mud on the final lap, enjoying every moment of feeling strong and fluid.  I won the race, which took me (and many others) by complete surprise.  It was the first time a grade 9 student had won BC High School Championships (although a few other girls have since).  In many ways, that race changed everything.

After winning BC High School Championships, I began to see myself as a much more serious and legitimate runner.  I started to get letters from prospective universities, and my coach and I began to set bigger goals such as racing Nationals and trying for a spot on the World Junior Team.  But it was not always easy.  After successfully defending my title in grade 10, I started to put a ton of pressure on myself.  The following year, our team (favored to win individually and as a team) fell apart at the race in Victoria, and three of us ending up in the medical tent.  I ended up being transferred to the hospital in an ambulance for treatment and observation, and although I denied it at the time, I can look back in retrospect and realize how much my self-induced pressure was negatively impacting me.  I was no longer running free and happy, instead I was running under my own expectations that anything less than a victory or a record was a failure.   I went through a period of time where I hated running and was not too keen on myself either.

Jennifer and I complete the first loop at the 1995 BC High School Championships in Abbotsford

Thankfully and with the help of supportive friends, family and coach, I was able to re-gain perspective and confidence.  I realize that running is a choice and a gift, and not an obligation.  No matter what happened, my family still loved me.   Even though I was only 15 years old, this memory remains one of my most powerful life lessons.  I have had many highs and lows in running since, but I always come back to my grade 11 experience to jolt myself back into a happy and grateful place.

I approached my final BC High School race (grade 12) with a completely different attitude.  My goal was to score as few points as possible to secure a team victory.  We had won the team Championships when I was grade 8, and had been second twice in the middle years, so I really wanted to go out with a bang.  For me, running is always more fun when there is a greater purpose than simply my own individual goals.  Cross Country is a team sport which is fun and motivating, and many of my best running memories are from being on the Stanford and Canadian Cross Country teams.  In any case, we won our coveted team title, and although I fell short of also winning the individual race (2nd place) I was thrilled to not end up as a DNF and semi-conscious in an ambulance, puking my brains out, as I had the previous year.  I had learned a lot about myself in that year.

Although it has been thirteen years since I was a high school runner, my experiences and memories of high school cross country are still a big part of me today.  It was as a high school runner that I decided that my big picture dream was to run in the Olympics, and as a quote of an unknown source once said “there is no miracle without desire”.  I achieved my Olympic dream in 2004 but I still have big dreams for 2012.  Much like my high school experience, I continue to have ups and downs, and lessons learned and re-learned.

A page from a school notebook, long before I was anywhere close to making a National team

So when I found out that my alma mater, KSS, is hosting the BC High School Championships this fall, I was thrilled.  I know what it meant to me and how many doors I did not even know existed opened because of this race.

These events are not possible without the help of many volunteers.  If you want to help with an event that could be a defining moment in a high school student’s life, please contact me at and I will be sure to find you a super cool job!


9 Responses to “It all starts in high school…”

  1. Unfortunately, not in Canada or else I’d totes be there. Also, its kind of funny to me that you guys raced to bed because, at my house, we turned our whole house into a gymnasium and practiced vaulting over the bed before bedtime (I’m sure that’s safe – running, “punching” a tape outline of a springboard,” flipping onto parents’ bed). We did the judges salute and everything, too. If only my parents had had us race to bed, maybe I’d be a better runner!

    Also, your 11th to 12th grade story kind of reminds me of my junior year of college. I went from the lowest of lows in October (a match I called “my waterloo” and seriously thought about quitting over the winter) to a high in May (all-conference in both singles and doubles). I’m not sure if I was putting too much pressure on myself (probably), but I did pretty much take all expectation off of myself (meaning I told my coach my goal was “not to suck anymore”) and went back to really basic things. I always think about that when I’m getting too crazy with school or running.

    • Malindi Elmore says:

      Hey Meggie…you know sometimes we need to come back to what got us into something in the first place and not “over-analyzing” or thinking about things…and just enjoy our sport/job/school etc. At least that’s how it is with me, as soon as running becomes too cognitive I suck and I am miserable but if I keep it coming from the heart it works out. Why does the brain have to get involved where it is not welcome???? Ha ha, good luck with your exams and NYM!

      • I’m at a constant war with my bad thoughts – and I see you in my fave training journal! And, good luck to you at Pan Ams!!!

  2. HAHAHAHA- I love that pic of you and Jeanette :) You guys look exactly the same… the intensity in your eyes is priceless- your folks were genius!

    • Malindi Elmore says:

      Yeah, just an idea for you when Adam gets a bit older but he might prefer someone to race against. Time trials aren’t so fun ;)

    • Thank-you for your honesty and perspective, Malindi. I will save this for Sophie to read when she is older (we still referred to you affectionately as the “World’s Fastest Babysitter” and she says she can remember zooming around in the baby jogger with you;o) Running is a ‘get to’, not a ‘have to’ – thank you for the reminder.
      May these Pan Am Games be a warm up to all you deserve in 2012. We will all be hoping and cheering for you!!

  3. Hi Cutie – people may be interested in the date for the Championship. I’m sorry I can’t come, it will be a really great event.

  4. Trevor MacKenzie says:

    Well said! Go owls and good on ya for giving back.


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