The Late Bloomers: Designing Woman Cathy Vandergeest

    JP's team at the 2016 Beaches Jazz Run. Cathy in the pink tutu. Photo credit: Inge Johnson.

    Over the next few months, we’re interested in telling the stories of those who came to running after the age of 40 and what they’ve learned and accomplished in the process. If you’re interested in participating, tweet Ravi and introduce yourself.

    Cathy Vandergeest started running in 2013, mainly to tire out her new puppy and fueled by a slight tinge of sibling rivalry when her sister also started running. “Okay, I’ll admit that I was just over fourty,” she says of her late start.

    Cathy is the owner of a large format print shop in Toronto’s Beaches alongside her husband. Her background as a designer, hence her social media handle @runningdesigner, has transferred to running, allowing Cathy to quite literally leave her mark on Toronto’s running scene. In 2016, she designed the finisher’s medal for the Tanenbaum 10K hosted by the Beaches Run Club as well as the logo for JP’s Team.

    JP’s Team at the 2016 Beaches Jazz Run. Cathy in the pink tutu. Photo credit: Inge Johnson.

    Named for 2015 Canadian Runner of the Year Jean-Paul Bedard, JP’s Team describes itself as a community of runners working to raise awareness and funds in support of services for survivors of childhood sexual abuse.

    According to Bedard, “When [Canada Running Series Race Director] Alan Brookes approached me about creating a ‘team’ that could assist in my advocacy work, he gave me one critical piece of advice: ‘Make sure you choose one or two people who can help you build this community.” Cathy was one of those people. JP says, “She donated her time and expertise to design our logo and what she produced is in a sense our calling card across North America and graces over 2,000 singlets, shirts, and hoodies.”

    It’s an interesting culmination given that in describing her story so far, Cathy seems to make extra effort to mention how much she always hated athletics in general. She describes herself as, “…the kid who didn’t participate in sports and hated running.”

    Nonetheless, similar to the envy Cathy experienced when her sister started to run, she admits, “I’d always been jealous of runners being able to get in a fast, good calorie burning workout.” In the leap from those first steps to her longest official run of 30K at Around the Bay 2015, Cathy has changed her tune somewhat, proclaiming, “Running has become somewhat like a need, like eating and sleeping. I never thought I’d say that about anything exercise related!” Much like any cherished relationship, Cathy celebrates her “runniversary” every year by running the route where she first completed 5K without stopping to walk.

    The shy, “unathletic” kid still lurks in Cathy somewhat, though it hasn’t deflated her growing love of running and the people she runs with. “My biggest frustration as a runner,” she confesses, “comes when I take walk breaks. No matter the reason, I feel guilty and less of a runner.” With the help of coach and friend Michelle Clarke, Cathy says she’s exercising patience and working from a plan that will support her both aerobically and mentally.

    When the physical and mental training that she works on with Coach Clarke sync on race day, it makes for Cathy’s most rewarding experience and affirms how much the young girl growing up in Toronto despising athletics has grown.

    “The thing I love most about running,” Cathy says, “is that it’s made me love being active and healthy and given me the courage to try new things.” That courage is bolstered by her comrades on JP’s Team, which has provided Cathy with, “a supportive community, some of whom have become the best friends I’ve ever known.” It doesn’t hurt that it’s also given her, “a skill that impresses my family, friends, and especially myself.”

    “Running has become somewhat like a need, like eating and sleeping. I never thought I’d say that about anything exercise related!”

    The runs and races with JP’s Team are just as special and Cathy doesn’t mind putting aside her own goals to support her teammates. Fellow JP’s Team member Melly says of Cathy, “She has personal goals but puts friendships first,” adding, “When my body broke down at STWM (Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon) last year, I called her on the course and she stopped to wait for me so we could finish the last four kilometres together. I don’t know many people who would do that.”

    For as much as running has given her, Cathy’s relationship with running and her fellow runners is reciprocal and they have certainly taken notice of her generosity. From designing their logo to planning the routes for JP’s Team group runs, JP says, “Cathy gives selflessly to be there for me and others. She basically takes my dreams and ideas and makes them a reality.” Making the abstract real is after all the essence of a great designer.

    “As you can tell,” JP adds, “I love Cathy. She’s the sister I never had.”

    For someone who says she felt like an impostor at her first few group or community running events, Cathy continues to surprise herself. “Even on the day I tried running,” Cathy says, “I couldn’t even begin to imagine I’d be capable of the things I am now, what I’ve accomplished, or how my life has changed from just one new activity.”


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