It’s early Saturday morning and just before the breakfast time chaos begins my son asks me, “Where are you going?” I quickly reply, “If you need something, go ask your Dad. Mama needs a run.” I lace up my running shoes and without hesitation I escape.
I started running when I was on maternity leave with Bella, as this was the only way to keep moving since my rugby days were sadly over. Bella spent her nap times in our trusty Bob stroller, as I was able to pound the roads to clock in kilometre after kilometre. The infatuation with running quickly grew, and soon enough my long time friend, Michelle introduced me to racing. Together we ran 5K, 10K and half marathons, and crossed every finish line with an exhausted smile.
Three years later, Petie was born and I had to say goodbye to the Bob in exchange for the double Bob. Finishing the runs with my lungs burning as the feeling of being on the verge of passing out after pushing the two kids, was equally physically and mentally empowering for me. With nothing but my own two legs pushing, running was a way for me to detach myself from the structure of my life, while giving a tingling sense of being connected to myself again.
In 2013, I started training with a group of elite runners in a community that supported, pushed, and enhanced my love for being part of a team-dynamic in a very solo sport. That year, I was able to run my fastest half marathon in 1:43, however I quickly became obsessed with my race paces and times. For two years, I couldn’t let go of my need to break the 41-minute barrier for the 10K, and before I knew it I realized I was burning out. With a huge hesitation I learned it was time for me to put my Garmin to rest. Two years ago, I wrote about my journey to Run Happy, sharing my search to find the joy through running again. As reassuring it was to strive towards fixed goals and personal bests and measuring my progress through numbers that were not open to interpretation, I knew it was time to step back from the intensity of training for races and just run for the fun of running; rediscovering the why.
The concept of enjoyment is valuable when we want to instill an active lifestyle for ourselves. As a health and physical education teacher and a strong advocate for daily physical activity, I’ve always made it my mission to support school communities to experience the joy in movement, as the end goal is to foster healthy active lifestyles in our children and youth today.
With the current COVID-19 social distancing measures and schools being closed I’ve had the pleasure to support the Ontario Physical Health & Education Association in their virtual #OpheaOpenClass, along with Ever Active Schools in Alberta in their #DPAeveryday campaign to help support students and their families get up, out and active in their homes.
It is amazing to be part of these organizations, and helping them develop quality resources to support #HPEatHOME however, we must also remember that many families are in the midst of coping with fear, anxiety, stress, sadness, isolation and boredom; all of which can have a negative effect on our health and overall well-being. Many families are struggling to manage the stress of the pandemic, working remotely while managing their household, and may not be able to compensate for the time their children normally spend outdoors during regular school recesses and other activities. Add to social distancing measures and self-isolation, any kind of outdoor activity can be a huge challenge for families.
There is so much research that emphasises that engaging in physical activity outdoors can help improve your physical health, as well as your mental health and well-being. Some families can engage in an active lifestyle during this pandemic through walking around their neighborhood, while adhering to the social distancing measures or even the simplicity of playing in the yard or front driveway. However, families with disabilities often experience fewer neighborhood environmental supports (e.g. sidewalks, accessible curbs) and access to resources to participate in physical activity.
I am often reminded in my own reality that families like mine living with disabilities are experiencing multi-layered challenges, as accessibility suffers during this pandemic. Persons with disabilities generally have more health-care needs than others – both standard needs and needs linked to impairments – and are therefore more vulnerable to the impact of low quality or inaccessible health-care services than others. With that in mind, accessing the appropriate support and resources during the pandemic continues to be a growing challenge, and affects the person and their family on a daily basis.
My husband and I have always valued the importance of physical activity in our own lives, and always encouraged our children to be active. On June 17th, 2020, The 2020 ParticiPACTION Report Card on Physical Activity for children and youth in Canada was released, and it shares new research findings that continue to highlight the strong link between physical activity and overall health among children and youth. There is also an emphasis on family influence, as recent findings show that parents’ physical activity is directly associated with that of their children’s.
Research continues to show that family social support in adopting physical activity habits early in life is positively associated in the likelihood of children remaining physically active as adults. However, if all children are to enjoy their rights to play and participate, that call needs to be supported and amplified by voices at all levels. Multiple, well-identified barriers stand in the way of children and youth with disabilities who want (and absolutely need) to be active.
I am beyond grateful for Bella’s team at the Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital as they have recognized that supporting families with the appropriate equipment to be physically active will encourage participation. Through consultation with Bella’s medical team, we were able to access the Family Support Fund during COVID-19 and received funding to purchase the Special Needs WIKE Trailer.
WIKE is a company based in Guelph, Ontario and they believe in active transportation and movement for all people of all abilities. Their special needs bike trailer is designed for larger children, older adults, or individuals with special needs accommodating a person between 3’4” and 5’4” tall, and up to 125lbs. This trailer offers many customizable supports to accommodate any individual’s needs. We paid a bit extra for their recliner set, and we have to say that it was a good investment as it provides the added support for a smooth ride.
This is the first time our family has been able to ride our bikes together. Having this bike trailer for Bella has given us a sense of belonging in our community, and beyond. We are now able to ride our bikes as a family, explore our local trails, and even go get a special cold treat after dinner time. Here are some pictures of our bike adventures since we have received the WIKE trailer 2 weeks ago...
Thank you to our team of doctors and nurses at the Holland Bloorview Hospital. With your support during these challenging times, you have provided a sense of normalcy for our family. Having the opportunity to ride as a family has helped us make physical activity a family affair, which continues to build a sense of closeness with each other and to the outdoors. Feeling the rush of the wind, the way the gears click into place, the stretch of our legs pumping to take us where we want to go, our family is now on the move!