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Lessons Learned: Getting The Cup To Be Half Full: Guest Post by Phaedra Kennedy

4 Jan

Almost 12 years ago, I packed my life into checked baggage and moved, by myself, halfway across the world. When I landed in Canada, a country that I had never set foot in, I did not know a single soul. My friend Kane (a truly amazing human being who really deserves a blog post all of his own) put me in touch with his friend Phaedra Kennedy, who happens to live in Toronto. When Phaedra and I met, we discovered to our mutual delight that we shared an interest in running.

Since we met, a lot has happened. We met our life partners several months apart and we are both now married. We’ve moved around, stuff has happened in our careers, and for both of us, running took a back seat to other events that were going on in our lives. Now, we are back in the running scene, and Phaedra is coaching me for the 2012 season. This is truly an honour: Phaedra is the kind of runner other runners look at in envy and admiration.

Today, Phaedra tells us about how she rose above personal tragedy and sadness to have a phenomenal season of running. This is a tale of strength and determination that I for one will take with me as I strive to achieve great things in 2012.

When Kirsten asked me to write a guest blog post for her, I was incredibly flattered.  I was also a little befuddled.  Her goal was to start off the year on a positive note so she approached 5 women she considered to be inspirational.  To be included in that group was high praise.  Me, inspirational?  I don’t know about that.  I thought long and hard about what I should write about.  She gave me no guidelines only that it had to be positive.  Which was challenging for me given that I had been in a bit of a funk as of late.   To top it off, I don’t normally think of myself as a positive person.  That had been cemented by the fact that I took one of those online tests a while ago to determine if I was a pessimist or an optimist.  Surprise, surprise, I was a glass half empty kinda gal.   But, somewhere along the way this year, my mindset MUST have changed a bit because this year has been one of the best years of my life and I chalk that up to me WANTING it to be that way.   Positive thought and determination made it so.

It all started in November of 2010.    I had just run a dismal race at the Scotiabank Waterfront Marathon.  I had decided to do the marathon after spending 1.5 years going through 3 failed IVF cycles.  It was a half-hearted attempt to get my athletic mojo back.  Over the course of the year and a half, my body had become a science experiment.  I had given up control over it in the hopes of starting a family.  I had been poked and prodded, injected with drugs, monitored on an almost daily basis.  My normal exercise routine went out the window.  I became a slave to my cycle.    Instead of early morning swim sessions, early morning clinic visits became the norm.  It took a toll on my body and my emotional state.  We had one last kick at the can in November of 2010.  When that failed, we were devastated.   When you’re used to being able to train your body to do what you want it to do, to have our 3rd IVF attempt fail was frustrating.  Especially when your doctor kept telling you everything looked great.  For whatever reason, my body was not meant to bear life.   It was a tough pill to swallow.  I went back to running to help soothe the pain.  There were some tears shed on those runs.  But there was also a realization that perhaps I had been given a different kind of gift.  The gift of being able to really follow my passion, to really delve into running like I never had before.  I was coming up on 40 and I thought You know what, I’m going to make 40 the best year of my life (to date).  With that simple vow, a world of possibility opened.   I rose to the challenge of taking the knowledge I had and crafting a plan that would get me to my goal.  I set what I thought was a lofty goal:  I was going to run 3 half marathons in 2011, with my last one being run in 1h 40 min or faster.  And I was going to blog about it.  Blogging would keep me accountable and if I managed to reach out and inspire a few folks along the way, then that was a bonus.

My plan was a departure from most traditional distance running plans.  Too much mileage and I will get injured.  This time around I focused on quality vs. quantity (no junk miles!!) And I added more strength training to my routine.  My diet also changed thanks to an amazing program called Precision Nutrition.  Gone were the processed foods and larger than necessary portion sizes.  I did a complete overhaul. I was quite proud of my little plan and my body responded to it well.

My first half marathon was the Chilly Half in March 2011.  It was the weekend of my 40th birthday.  My goal was to run sub 1:50.  No surprise, it snowed the night before so the conditions were horrible.  I didn’t freak out.  The snow was a blessing.  It made me start out slow.  Which was great.  Even with the slow start, I managed to pull off a 1:47 and change.  Perfect.  I was pumped.  I didn’t let the weather get me down.  I just went out and ran.  Lesson learned:  Don’t worry about things you don’t have control over, just go out and do your best.

My second half marathon was the Toronto Women’s Half in May.  I had been really looking forward to this race.  I had finally gotten back out with my running group so I had been getting some good speed work in.  I couldn’t WAIT to see what I was capable of.    The course was rolling and it was on bike paths so I figured it might be a bit challenging.  Bring it.   Race day was muggy and gross, but nothing that a few cups of water from some shirtless firefighters couldn’t help.  I busted my butt in this race.  Went out way too hard and paid for it near the end.  But I pushed through pain that normally would have me backing off.  I came out with a 1:41:39.  A new PB! And 5th place in my age group!  Lesson learned:  I’m tougher than I give myself credit for.

I went on a racing frenzy during the summer. It seemed like I raced almost every other weekend.   With each race, my results were better and better.  I started to get spots on the podium.  I won my age group a few times and then I actually snagged a women’s overall win.  Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d have a year like this.  It took positivity to a whole new level.  I trained hard and continued to race all summer.  I learned to really listen to my body.   I went into each race with a positive outlook.  And a goal of working hard and giving it my all.   My new motto became leave it all on the race course.   This was a new thing for me.  I was always so cautious when I was racing.  What if I went out too hard?  What if I blew up?  No longer a concern.  I had faith in my abilities.    This was new to me!

As my 3rd and final race got closer, I thought about revisiting my goal time.  I was running the Scotiabank Half and it was flat so my husband said I should aim for 1:35.  In the back of my head, that became my new hard goal.  I recruited a friend from my running group to pace me.   This time I wanted to race smart and not go out too hard.   Race day I was calm cool and collected.  I knew I could do it.   Sub 1:40 would not be a problem.  Could I break 1:35?  If I raced smartly, and trusted my abilities, I figured I could.

In typical fashion I wanted to go out hard but my friend kept me in check.  I made a few mistakes early in the race that would have saved me some panic late in the race but at about 19km, I knew I was going to make it.  It would be close but I knew if I pushed myself I’d be ok.  Before I knew it I had hit the 500m mark.   I was overcome with emotion as I ran towards the finish line.  The culmination of a year of hard work was coming to a head.  The doors were finally closing on an old chapter of my life and opening on a new one.  I could see the clock counting down to 1:35.   I crossed the finish line in 1:34:48.   Amazing.  What was even more amazing was that I managed to place 6th in my age group out of 662 women.  6th!!!   When my husband told me that I burst into tears.  Tears of joy, amazement & thankfulness.

Lesson Learned:  Trust in your ability and most importantly believe in yourself.

I had exceeded my original goal by 5 minutes and I had crushed my PB from May by 6 minutes.    I never imagined I’d have a year like this.   All because I made the decision that 40 was going to be the best year of my life AND I actually did something about it.  I was amazed by the things that happened along the way.  I realized that my mindset has changed.  I’m no longer a glass half empty kinda gal.  I’m not quite at the glass half full point but I’m working on it.  2012 will be the year the glass becomes half full.  Of that I’m certain.

(Photo credit: Phaedra Kennedy)

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The Beauty Of Autism

31 May

"Peep And The Big Wide World" by George

It was a beautiful moment. One of those moments that autism parents celebrate, that parents of neurotypical children completely fail to notice.

I got home after a long, hard day at work, feeling tired and cranky. As I trudged my way up the driveway, all I wanted to do was grab a glass of wine, collapse into a chair, and never get up again. I didn’t just feel lethargy. At that moment, I was lethargy.

I opened the front door and stepped into the house. Moments later, I heard a pair of feet thundering up the stairs from the basement, and a seven-year-old whirlwind launched itself at me, almost knocking me to my feet. After giving me a ferocious hug, George said, in his sweet sing-song voice, “Hi, Mommy!”

Without me saying hi to him first.

Without me or anyone else prompting him.

This was a social exchange that was initiated completely, 100%, by my child with autism – my child who has, as one of his biggest challenges, social communication difficulties.

Instantly, my energy was back and I was ready to laugh and play with my family, with this amazing child who always seems to give me surprises of wonder.

As a special needs mom, I find that my life is punctuated with moments like this. I remember firsts that I probably wouldn’t even notice if I didn’t have a child with autism.

Like the first time he pointed. What a joyous occasion that was, coming as it did after almost a full year of me teaching him how to point. I blubbed my eyes out that night, all over the Bob the Builder book that had been the vehicle for this accomplishment.

Then there was the first time he made a request using a full sentence. It didn’t matter to me that the sentence was only three words long. This child who said, “I want juice” was streets ahead of the child who, just a few months before, had indicated his need by grabbing my hand and thrusting it in the general direction of the juice boxes.

And what about the first time he pretend-played? It was a simple game that consisted of George crouching down on the ground, and crawling around with his back arched skyward while repeatedly saying, “Turtle.” So what if it was unsophisticated play that included only himself? He was pretending – something he had never done before.

More recently, we celebrated him drawing his first picture. He’d made lots of scribbly-type drawings in the past, of course (and I have kept every single one of them), but this was his first picture depicting an actual scene. That it was an instantly recognizable scene from his favourite kids’ show, Peep And The Big Wide World, makes it even more special.

We have seen the advent of humour, and this is all kinds of significant. Humour is a complicated intellectual process, and George gets it. And let me tell you, he is funny.

All of these moments, when strung together, tell a story of a very special little boy who is making a journey through life that is somewhat different to the way other kids do it. But the point is that he is making the journey and having all kinds of adventures. He may be taking the scenic route, but ultimately, he does pass through the same places that other kids do. He achieves many of the same things, but it takes a little longer and is accomplished in unconventional ways.

I believe that having a child with autism makes me a better parent than I would be otherwise.

It has given me the ability to spot a single flower in a sea of long grass, and more importantly, the power to stop and smell every single flower that I pass on this journey through my kids’ childhoods.