Broken Neck, to Long Distance Runner

I am so very lucky that I have been able to parlay my passion into my life's work.  This passion is teaching people who believe they cannot exercise, to do exactly that.  And a second passion, running: helping people run who did not think they could, and helping individuals who already run do so without injury.  With that in mind, I am often asked how I ended up jumping from psychology, to social work, to personal training/rehabilitation.  This is my story. I had decided at age 15 that I was going to be a psychologist, after discovering Freud in my high school library. I loved helping people and was amazed that there was a whole discipline devoted to this! Everything I did from then on was meant to lead me to this ultimate goal, which eventually shifted to clinical social work. This included copious volunteer stints at such places as Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Hincks-Dellcrest, Bloorview Children’s Hospital; paid work at the Reena Foundation, working with adults with developmental disabilities; and social work positions at the YMCA Youth Substance Program, TDSB, and Voices of Positive Women (with HIV+ women). However, something wasn’t right. I loved counselling but did not like to be in an office all day. In addition, there was not yet a body of evidence on the benefits of exercise for mental health issues, so my efforts to introduce these types of interventions were not warmly received. In my second year of graduate school, as I completed a hard workout in order to manage the daily stress of working with drug- and alcohol-addicted teenagers, I had an epiphany that I should combine counselling with physical activity. I had experienced firsthand the powerful effect that physical activity had on the mind – on stress and anxiety. As well, being active had a wonderfully positive effect on self-efficacy – self-esteem and personal agency. I wanted to use this tool to help others improve their lives. I spent my second year of graduate school studying, completing an internship, and preparing for my American Council on Exercise Personal Trainer Certification exam. It was a very busy time! Thankfully I finished my MSW, and as well passed my certification exam with flying colours. I promptly started Lifeline Personal Training, with the tagline “I’m the trainer who keeps you saner!” Just over a year later, something life-changing happened: While biking home one evening in downtown Toronto, I was hit by a taxi. I flipped over my handlebars and landed on my head – so hard that my helmet cracked in two. I learned a few hours later, on a hospital gurney, that I had broken a vertebrate in my neck. Miraculously, there was no nerve damage as the fracture was “distal” – away from – the spinal column. That being said, it was a Grade Four whiplash injury with extensive soft tissue damage. Recovering from this injury sparked the fundamental question of how one can exercise with a medical condition that ostensibly would exclude physical activity. I became fascinated, and a little bit obsessed, by this. Soon I was specializing in working with clients who had medical problems and chronic health conditions, and within several years had added two advanced level qualifications. Even though my bike accident was 19 years ago, at times I still live with considerable pain. This has deepened my understanding of the experiences of individuals who also suffer from chronic pain. Breaking my neck did not diminish my goal-oriented nature, however. While out for a brief, very slow walk shortly after my accident, many years ago, I made a firm decision: that I was going to become a long distance runner. I had been very active, but could never run very far. Somehow, I managed to climb out of an abyss of chronic pain, and do exactly that.