My Story: From Broken Neck, to Long Distance Runner

I am often asked how I ended up jumping from psychology, to social work, to personal training, to medical exercise. In reality, the answer sounds trite, but is entirely true.

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.

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 a social work internship, and preparing for my American Council on Exercise Personal Trainer Certification exam. It was a very busy time!  I completed my MSW, and passed my certification exam with flying colours. I promptly started Lifeline Personal Training, with the tagline "I'm the trainer who keeps you saner!"  From the start, my objective was - and still is - to merge my social work training with the transformative capacity of physical activity.

Just over a year later, something life-altering 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.  To date, I have helped countless individuals incorporate exercise into their lives.  Many of these clients never thought they would be able to exercise again, and most have been able to include physical activity as part of their treatment plans.

Even though my bike accident was 24 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.