Robyn Michaud Turgeon finds it strange to step into a role that might be called inspirational or influential. “In the Anishinaabe community,” Robyn says, “we have the Seven Grandfather Teachings, including humility. Because that’s so ingrained, it’s hard to even sell yourself in a job interview.”
The “influencer culture” or language doesn’t come easy to Robyn, but throughout her 26 year career of teaching and just as many years of running—albeit with a few breaks here and there— she’s also understood the urgency with which a story like her’s needs to be heard.
“I think my whole life and career has been focused on Indigenous issues and history and as I work with Indigenous people, I still see the effects of residential school trauma and the need to change people’s views of what it means to be Indigenous,” Robyn explains.
It wasn’t just the views of non-Indigenous people, but the views of Indigenous persons and how they see themselves that needed tweaking. Robyn says, “It’s easy for BIPOC people to make a mistake and have it be magnified, so when I go into schools and there are usually so few Indigenous teachers, everything you do matters to these kids.”
Conscious of those teachings around humility, but also the need for her community to see new possibilities, Robyn, mother of four, has sought openness as well as living by example as her path to forge the changes she hopes to see in current and future generations. Her mission is not to promote herself, but to allow others to take from her journey. When it comes to running, the Indigenous Run Club in London, Ontario and the online Native Women Running community, have been Robyn’s conduits to inspire a healthy lifestyle and let her own teachings take root.
First, you can start late.
Robyn explains, “I was horrible at running as a child and couldn’t do it to save my life. I didn’t start until my first years of teaching, when during times of high stress I would just put on my shoes and run. It was the most natural form of antidepressant.”
Second, perfection is not the goal.
Running was a welcome reprieve for Robyn, who admits that her type-A personality benefited from doing something that she didn’t have to be great at. “I always saw being a runner as something you were or you weren’t and that if you were, you had to be skinny and ‘athletic looking,’” Robyn admits.
Like the students who can see someone from their community who has broken stereotypes, Robyn’s fellow members of the Indigenous Run Club and online communities have a new north star. In Robyn, they can see a self-described middle-aged woman, one who also contends with syringomyelia—characterized by a fluid filled cyst within the spinal cord that can lead to issues of pain, stiffness, atrophy, and loss of reflexes, among others—who has completed 19 marathons, including three majors, while looking nothing like the stereotypical runner.
Third, tell your story, but do so honestly.
Robyn speaks glowingly of Joel Kennedy, founder of the Indigenous Running Club. “He’s completely changed his life and gone from being overweight to running three marathons. With the prevalence of conditions like diabetes in the community, it’s so important to hear that,” Robyn says. “I’m proud to be of Anishinaabe and Ojibwe background and to be part of the Indigenous Running Club because we promote health in our communities.” In the Indigenous Running Club, Joel and fellow runners like Robyn have created a space where they hope journeys like their own can flourish. On the group’s weekly runs, says Robyn: “Even the grandmas come out for a two kilometre walk.”