Finding meaning in racing often means running for something other than yourself.
By: Ravi Singh
Canada’s greatest icon of running—I would push to say our greatest sporting icon period—holds no IAAF ratified records and never had an Olympic medal draped around his neck.
Other sporting heroes are sporadically immortalized in the cities that they gifted with trophies and ephemeral triumphs in the competitive arena. Terry Fox is celebrated from sea to sea, not just an icon of athletics but of humanity.
In our nation’s capital, he looks toward the house of our government. In that city, the Ottawa Race Weekend annually brings together upwards of 44,000 runners to race in support of more than 500 charities.
Fox is remembered on the east coast with a statue in St. John’s, where he dipped his leg in the Atlantic to begin the Marathon of Hope. There, his mission continues with the Blue Nose Marathon surpassing $500,000 total raised for local causes in 2016 alone.
On the west coast, Fox welcomes visitors along the main pavilion of Vancouver’s BC Place. His presence there is a reminder that before entering the arena where victory is prized, an athlete should prize humility and perseverance above all. The BMO Vancouver Marathon now boasts $14.5 million and counting raised for charity.
His figure is etched into our Canadian DNA and the name Terry Fox literally binds our land together by giving itself to 15 highways. If Terry Fox is woven into Canada’s DNA, so too is the sense of purpose with which he ran.
It should make perfect sense that running and charity have come together for such a fruitful relationship. Running is kindness and generosity in motion. In the distances we log, every runner must constantly quiet the voice that reminds us of our own shortcomings and that tells us we can’t.
We have to tell ourselves that we are worth the effort. In moments of anguish, we have to stay committed to shedding the layers that weigh us down and that we know don’t define us. We have to put aside preconceived notions and accept slow gradual progress, not immediate perfection.
To throw our hands up in frustration is an act of anger toward ourselves. Each subsequent step, each inhalation and exhalation to bring us back to focus, is a choice toward kindness. Rather than denigrate ourselves or react violently against that voice of doubt, we treat it with compassion and patience by quietly moving forward with an understanding that it requires work.
I would hope that such a journey into our own struggles, that confrontation with our own demons, invites us to a place of humility, a realization that our complex tangles won’t be eradicated with violence. Nor will inflicting shame on ourselves or on others compel us to be better. Kindness proves to be the best way forward.
We’ll lace up again in the following days, weeks, months and years if we’re so lucky, celebrating each barrier broken and not daunted by the many more that may yet present themselves.
Perhaps this is where the Good Run begins. We run to build something better, often a better self. To run for a better community, to share that kindness, is just a natural extension of that.
Running and generosity go hand in hand. It means taking the privilege of pursuing our passion for racing on to the streets of the places we live and visit and channelling it toward a better present and future for those places. The lives we change are ones we’ll likely never encounter.
When race director Sheryl Sawyer brought the Mudcat Marathon to her town of Dunnville, Ont.—located along the Grand River delta with a population of just under 6,000—the race partnered with the Dunnville Youth Impact Centre.
It was an important match for Sawyer as the Mudcat Marathon brought a lasting impact into the lives of Dunnville’s youth. According to Sawyer, “While beginning to show some signs of thriving now, Dunnville has suffered economic setbacks in recent years that have left a legacy of poverty among some of its youth.”
The Mudcat Marathon, Sawyer says, was an opportunity to “raise funds that wouldn’t otherwise be available in the community.” It was the more than 1,100 runners who descended on Dunnville, many perhaps for the first time, that empowered the Dunnville Youth Impact Centre to continue its efforts in lifting youth out of poverty. Running was a tool for community building, one that brought to light a small charity working in a small community.
That model scales up brilliantly to our most popular and biggest races, where support is built for hundreds of charities at a time, again ranging from the smallest of local organizations to world-renowned research hospitals.
When race directors and organizers have an understanding of running’s potential as a catalyst for change and make that a commitment from the get-go, there’s no trade-off between a memorable race experience and one toward which participants can be proud of having pledged their dollars and energy.
The author Victor Fankl posited that meaning is at the core of happiness. It’s not an absence of suffering or struggle or even constant pleasure that makes us happy, but a connection to purpose. “What man needs,” Frankl writes, “is the striving and struggling to a worthwhile goal.”
That’s why Rhonda-Marie Avery, legally blind, ran end-to-end along the 900 kilometres of the Bruce Trail, to raise funds for and empower her fellow athletes. Avery’s Envisions Project strives to break barriers between athletics and those living with disability.
It’s why Troy Adams and Brad Firth can run across Canada in hopes of raising awareness of the causes of brain injury and missing and murdered indigenous women.
It’s why Richard Hoyt pushed his son Richard Jr., the latter afflicted with cerebral palsy, in a wheelchair for 72 total marathons.
Like Fox, their bodies endure struggle but those bodies are still able instruments for generosity and purpose. The miles are never for nothing. Every runner knows that. The acts of charity we undertake through blisters and black toenails are imbued with meaning and belief in something bigger within and bigger than ourselves. Charity gives running meaning and meaning gives running joy.