I am a passionate advocate for healthy living and a one woman army in the fight against Type 2 Diabetes. I am cycling across Canada to show my patients past, present and future that when inspiration and strong will get together- the results can be magical.
On Friday after riding all night through Saskatchewan we arrived in Brandon. After breakfast and a quick nap it was on to Winnipeg.
I grew up in Winnipeg. It was such a treat to ride through my hometown. The prairies really are something to be seen. The way the landscape changes from rolling hills in Alberta and Saskatchewan and then onto pure flat land. The sky truly does go on forever and, yes, if your dog runs away you can see him for miles.
On a perfect sunny August day after very little sleep I could feel the week taking its toll on me.I had ridden over 280 kilometres in the last 36 hours on very little sleep. Needless to say, my proverbial tank was empty.
And then I met Yvonne Hansen. Yvonne is a 48-year-old teachers aide who works with autistic kids in inner city schools. In her spare time she runs a community football program for kids in Winnipeg and is the mother to four children.
Yvonne is a superhero in so many ways. She is a woman who cares so much about her community. She is a woman of her word who really does use her power for good.
This March, Yvonne became a nonsmoker. A year ago Yvonne lost her mother to emphysema. The grief was enormous. Yvonne had spent the last months of her mother’s life as a caregiver.
When her mother passed away, Yvonne not only lost her family’s matriarch, she had lost her job. You see Yvonne is a natural caregiver. She really has it in her to look after others. Whether it is her students or her family, Yvonne was born to contribute to the lives of others.
On March 3, 2011 Yvonne used her grief for good. She quit smoking. More importantly she got her whole family onboard. Yvonne signed her family up for the LIVE RIGHT NOW challenge at the YMCA in Winnipeg. Along with her children, brother, husband and father- she made a healthier change.
Yvonne read the book, FOR THE SMOKER WHO WANTS TO QUIT by Dr. Paul McDonald published by the Canadian Cancer Society.
Using the tools she learned from the book, she quit smoking, started working out every day and eating healthier. Yvonne’s father as well remains smoke free. She tells me that everyone in her family has committed to being healthier, but there have been setbacks along the way.
Now over five months later Yvonne is still going strong.
We met at Blue Bomber stadium. Football is an integral part of Yvonne’s family and so our meeting spot was ever so appropriate. I tell Yvonne how I grew up in Winnipeg and had season tickets to the Bomber games. As a kid I spent many a November sitting in the stadium in a sleeping bag watching the Bombers play in 20 below zero weather.
Today we walked around the stadium. The sun was shining, the warm wind blowing and my muscles getting adjusted to moving without a bicycle beneath me.
I ask Yvonne my usual questions:
WHAT IS YOUR NUMEBER ONE HEALTH PRIORITY?
To reach a level of healthy fitness and maintain it.
WHAT IS YOUR BIGGEST OBSTACLE IN ACHIEVING GOOD HEALTH?
Not putting myself first.
HOW DO YOU OVERCOME THIS OBSTACLE?
I think I’ve got to learn not to feel guilty for saying no to other people. I have an incredibly hard time with “THE NO”.
HOW WILL YOU SHARE YOUR HEALTHY MESSAGE WITH OTHER CANADIANS?
I just want to share my experience of being a smoker and successfully becoming a nonsmoker. I want to help people quit (smoking) because that is huge. I’d love to start a quitting smoking support group. I’d love to be an advocate to help people quit. I just have to find the right place to do this.
I have no doubt this woman will make an impact wherever she goes. In the few hours we spent together I saw Yvonne’s effect on others, myself included.
After our walk we went to CBC radio to do an interview together and her father, Jack joined us by telephone. Yvonne and he Dad spoke about their continued success being smoke free. I had the opportunity to speak about my cross-country ride and had the chance to publicly praise this amazing woman.
While at the CBC I watched the entire staff light up as Yvonne walked into the room. You see, Yvonne is someone you want to be around. Yvonne is someone who not only has changed her life; she changes the perspective of others by just being around them.
My visit to Winnipeg was more than a chance to visit my hometown and wax nostalgic for the seasons of my youth. It was a chance to meet a woman who in the same time it takes to play a football game- taught me that life is about our wins and loses and what we learn along the way.
Welcome to Wild Rose country. Today, we had a perfect sendoff by the “Batter Boys” in a parking lot in Calgary. Yes, my dear readers, I did have pancakes. But I reasoned that this was a treat and 110 km of cycling would follow.
And so it did. With the sun shining and big sky all around we made our way, new team in tow through Brooks and into Medicine Hat, Alberta, home of the world’s largest Tee-Pee.
Just south of the Blackfoot Buffalo Jump there it sits. It was built for the 1988 Calgary Olympics and stands over 20 stories high. I am told that it was designed to withstand extreme temperatures and winds up to 240 km/h.
It is here that I eat a perfect hamburger grilled by a lovely man called Mike who tells me that yes; my bike is the prettiest of the bunch.
More importantly, I meet Karen.
Karen is a one-woman branch of the Medicine Hat regional Branch for the Canadian Diabetes Association.
She has been working for the organization for over 25 years. When she started she tell me there were about 100,000 cases of Diabetes in Canada. Now we are at over three million.
Karen has her work cut out for her. She runs support groups and educational meetings for people living with Diabetes. She works with the Diabetes educators and health care providers in her region to provide educational support for those living with this disease.
Karen is an example of what it means to be the real deal.
There in the shadow of a massive structure designed to stand the test of time, Karen tell me how she has run two marathons and raised over $17,000 in the process for The Canadian Diabetes Association.
She is a spunky woman who really is doing it all and she is a one-woman show for the CDA here in the region.
I of course a fan of spunky go getting woman was instantly a fan.
SO we sat in the Teepee overlooking the plains where once the Blackfoot tribe chase buffalo during the Buffalo run in order to survive.
There we were… me and Karen two new kind of warriors against a different kind of enemy.
As a doctor I have learned that good care comes in many forms. Beneath the world largest Teepee on the TransCanada highway after 113km of cycling… I got to meet a true Diabetes warrior. The sun was setting and the burger was delicious. Overall the day began and ended in true Alberta hospitality.
More importantly I can take comfort in the fact that the funds I am raising for this most worthy cause go to programs like the one Karen so passionately sets up.
There beneath the World’s Largest Teepee I met a woman who truly was larger than life. I’ll sleep better tonight I suspect than I have in the last few days. Maybe it was the hospitality or maybe it was the long ride or maybe it was that perfect burger.
No, I suspect I’ll sleep better knowing that people like Karen exist and make that extra difference in the lives of so many living with this terrible
Dan MoultonCalgary August 16
Today we rode from Golden to Calgary. This marked the end to the Western portion of my cross Canada journey. I made it through the Rockies. I can’t describe the elation I felt riding from Revelstoke to Banff.
I was sad to leave my beautiful British Columbia behind but excited to move on to new terrain and new adventures. More importantly, I can’t wait for the prairies…. There are no mountains on the prairies. Make no mistake, I love my Rockies. Riding through them up and over on a bicycle does however leave me aching (literally) for flat land.
I could not have been happier to be in Calgary. I did my residency here more than ten years ago. This place has many good memories for me of wonderful people, good times and lessons learned.
Today I added another one to the list.
Today I met Dan Moulton.
Dan is a 58-year-old retired educator who in his late forties went back to school and completed a PhD. Dan is a lesson in how life should be; ever changing and evolving; always open to new possibilities.
Unfortunately Dan’s bicycle is not quite ready for action or he assures me that we would have gone for a bike ride. Instead Dan joined my cycling team and me at our team dinner where he was just in time for a coffee and a chat.
During our too short visit he captivated the entire team with the story of his own journey to health.
Eight months ago Dan was watching Village on a Diet on CBC and he knew he was ready to make a life change. At 58 years of age he was suffering from Hypertension, Obesity and Depression. The following morning he was listening to CBC radio when he heard about the LIVE RIGHT NOW challenge. He immediately signed up and while waiting for a response he took action.
Dan started swimming, slowly at first and twenty laps at a time. He built up from there. Now 8 months later he swims 100 laps every day. He tells me that he sets his alarm every morning, “because I know if I don’t do it first thing in the morning, I won’t do it.” Dan works within his limitations. He had learned what he has to do to maintain a certain level of fitness and he makes it happen.
Now eight months later and 45 pounds lighter, he has a new found energy and a new outlook on life.
I sit mesmerized by his story. He reminds me how one small gesture can make a significant difference.
Make no mistake, I am not so narrow minded to think that one television show changed Dan’s life. In fact to suggest such a thing is to diminish this magical man’s amazing achievement and to reduce him to a cliché.
No, Dan changed his own life. The fact that it coincided with the LIVE RIGHT NOW challenge was a question of perfect timing.
And so I ask Dan my usual questions….
WHAT IS YOUR TOP HEALTH PRIORITY?“To continue to be active and healthy. “
WHAT IS YOUR MAJOR OBSTACLE IN THIS REGARD?“The Biggest challenge is keeping the weight off and maintaining this level of health and fitness.”
HOW DO YOU OVERCOME THIS OBSTACLE:
“ I make sure I swim very day. Even when I travel I make sure there is a pool for me to swim in wherever we go. “ Dan tells me about the support he has received from his family and friends and how that continues to motivate him, “my daughters inspire me. One is a marathon runner, the other a triathlete. They motivate me to keep moving forward.”
DO YOU THINK YOUR STORY WILL INSPIRE SOMEONE ELSE TO MAKE A HEALHTY CHANGE?
“I hope so. I’m volunteering at the YMCA and taking a course to be an aquafit instructor. I’d like to be able to inspire other people to become healthier. I want to share in my good fortune.”
Dan tells me that when he swims he repeats affirmation in his head in order to count laps.
“I always lose track counting to 100. It’s easier for me to have eight different sayings in my head that I repeat, one on each lap in a cycle.” When asked what his favorite affirmation is he pauses and smiles, “I can do anything I put my mind to.”
At 45 pounds lighter, swimming 100 laps a day, I have no doubt that Dan’s words are a testimony to his greatness.
My journey into Calgary was more than just a celebration of then end of a long journey of hills…. It was a chance to meet Dan, to rest my tired legs and to refuel my spirit with his amazing story.
Tomorrow we ride to Medicine Hat and then on into Saskatchewan. I will take the memory of Dan’s smile and the grace of his spirit as the wind at my back.
Kathie Leitch.August 16
Today we ride from Golden to Calgary. I have been training for hills for many weeks and this is my last day in the mountains for some time.
Today, riding through Revelstoke and Banff, I think of Kathie.
I first met Kathie on one of my training rides up Cypress mountain. Kathie is the woman we all want to be. Kathie is 76 years old and could teach any twenty something a thing or two about how to be young at heart.
I was settling in for the 800 metre climb and the 15 kilometres of pure uphill when there was Kathie. In her pink arm warmers with stripped knee socks to match. I knew she was my kind of people. She literally was glowing with her effervescent spirit.
“First time up?” she asked me as I cycled passed her.“Yes”, I grunted, knowing this was going to be a challenge of a ride.“Well, it’s all mental. Just put your head down and go for it.”And so I did.At the top, Kathy offered me some of her peanut butter sandwich. I drank my coffee and marveled at the fact that I firstly, had just cycled up a mountain and secondly, I had done it with a 67 year old woman.
“I can’t take credit for my stamina,” she looked at me earnestly, “It’s just who I am… it’s in my genes”. And with that she was off down the mountain, pink socks glaring in the wind.
When I caught up with Kathie yesterday , it was by telephone and she was as energetic as ever.
“I went and bought a new carbon fibre bike!” she gushed, “Maybe now I can do the Gran Fondo in seven hours instead of seven and a half!”
Last year Kathie cycled from Vancouver to Whistler in the Gran Fondo. She finished the race in just under 7.5 hours. This, however is nothing new for Kathie. When she was 20 years old she swam across Lake Winnipeg. She’s been active her entire life.
“What’s your Biggest Health Priority?” I ask“I bike to stay healthy.”
“What's your biggest obstacle to achieving better health?” I ask“I don’t really have one. Oh I’ve got arthritis like hell. and sore knees but I just pop more Ibuprophen and keep on going” she laughs
“What’s your message to other Canadians who are trying to be healthier?”“Just because something is impossible it’s no reason not to do.Start biking 5 km a week and then the next week 10km and keep going. You never know where it will take you.”
Mountains don’t stop this woman. Last weekend she took a group of cyclists up Cypress mountain who never thought they would make the trip…. Little did they know they had Kathie as a coach. All 10 riders made it up the mountain and back, safe and sound.
I asked Kathy how she came to cycling in the first place.“When I was 50 I saw a video of Iron Man and I was a swimmer. I decided I was going to do an Iron Man. So I learned to cycle and I learned to run. I did Hawaii Iron Man at 55.”
Now she’s an active member of the Richmond Bike club and shows no intention of ever slowing down.
Kathie turns 77 next month. I wonder if she bought herself the carbon fibre bike as an early birthday gift? Well, Miss Kathie…. You certainly deserve it. Many Happy Returns. You are my hero.
Carol Hill, August 15, 2011
Carol is in a word… exceptional. I have no doubt I will meet some amazing and inspiring people on this bicycle ride across Canada. I will no doubt be touched and enthused by their stories of triumph and loss.
Carol is one of the reasons I am here.
I am Carol’s diabetes doctor and she is one of the reasons I go to work with a smile on my face.
Carol is 74 years of age and a champion for her own health. She has volunteered in her communities for the last 60 years and is still an active contributor today. Whether she is volunteering for Special Olympics or playing water polo on an all men’s water polo team Carol stays active.
I have been Carol’s doctor for just over two year and to date she has lost 80 pounds.
Carol says it best,
“ I volunteered for 60 years, camp leader, ski patroller, swim instructor, Special Olympics, figure skating judge for 45 years. I wanted people to see the “me” inside and they did. But when I looked in the mirror that is not what I saw, therefore I couldn’t form a positive self-image of myself. Yet, with time and with support (my) confidence increased and I came to know that my physical image to the world was a challenge, but one I could meet.”
I am leaving Kamloops today for Golden. We have already made our way from Vancouver to Whistler and from Whistler to Kamloops. Today, we will ride through Rogers Pass. I think of Carol on the hills. Carol’s life is all about the climb. At 74 years of age she continues to strive for better health and a sense of self worth that has taught me that life really is all about the climb.
I ask Carol what is her biggest priority in terms of her health.
“To live a life with quality and in order to do that I have to. To get the weight off and get the diabetes and blood pressure under control”
She is ever so candid when she shares with me her obstacles to achieving better health:“Weight loss and self image,” she says with conviction, “I am working on that and that is my journey for the rest of my life… And trying to get your emotional self in a place that is acceptable.”
I ask Carol how does she overcome these obstacles.“Oh Gosh. It’s all the time. My philosophy is keeping busy and trying to help others. Just being a positive example and a positive image to others…. Exercise helps a lot. It just makes me feel so much better. It raises up my self-esteem. “Carols’ great motivators for change were being diagnosed with Diabetes and the birth of her third grandchild. She was “enthused with a burning desire to be there with him as he grew up”.
Now four years later and 80 pounds lighter, Carol is more than just a healthy grandmother with her diabetes, hypertension and obesity under control… She is a force to be reckoned with.
There will be many hills on today’s ride through Cache Creek and Lillooet. There will be many ups and downs in life. On all counts, when I’m tired and my legs are aching and my will just isn’t willing… I’ll think of a 74 year old grandmother in a pool somewhere playing water polo with the vigor of a teenager and I’ll just pedal through.
COUNTDOWN TO CROSS COUNTRY
Tomorrow, I begin my Cross Country Challenge. I will cycle from Vancouver to Halifax for the Canadian Diabetes Association and Cycle4What Matters. I know it may seem like madness, cycling across a country for a cause. But here’s the deal… I’ve lived in Canada my entire life and have never seen its details.
ON the surface this experience seems like the ultimate philanthropic gesture- cycle across the country- from Vancouver to Halifax and raise funds and awareness for Diabetes.
But, I’ll let you in on a secret- this will be the most self-indulgent thing I’ve ever done. Physically- I really want to be able to see if I CAN do it. I mean isn’t that what life is really about? Challenging yourself in the best of ways to see what you are really made of?
Mentally, I get almost a month off work and a chance to reflect. I ‘ll meet and interview people from all across this country and hear their amazing stories about their quest for self-improvement and a healthier tomorrow.
And then there is my Canada. As a kid I remember road trips from Winnipeg to Vancouver over summer holidays in the back of my parents Oldsmobile Cutlass. I remember my face pressed up against the window in anticipation of our destination. I remember being so excited to see what the road had in store.
I remember being mesmerized by the colours of the wheat fields in Saskatchewan and the turns of the roads through the Rockies.
That excitement is still there as I think about this new journey ahead. Now I cannot wait for the curves in the roads of the Rockies and the yellow fields of Alberta. I wonder what Saskatchewan will be like from the seat of my bike on a perfect summer night when the prairie sky looks exactly as is should. Will I marvel at the Majesty that is Ontario and Quebec or will I be so exhausted by then, that I just want to take a nap? Oh, and the Maritimes…. I can’t wait for the Maritimes….
Yes, here I am, another kid excited for her summer holiday but this time the anticipation goes deeper than the landscape.
I’m ever so patriotic. I know how lucky I am to live in Canada. I am ever so more fortunate to practice medicine in this country.
Every day I sit in an office and listen to patients and their stories of triumph and loss. I can’t help but marvel in the magic of the human spirit. I can’t help but be inspired – to be a better person and to be a better doctor. I can’t help but want more for the patients that I treat.
And now it is time to take that message and that motivation on the road. I can’t wait to meet other Canadians whose life stories truly are inspirational. I can’t wait to share THEIR stories with others and watch the waves grow.
And so the COUNTDOWN TO CROSS COUTNRY begins… Tomorrow I take on a whole new kind of challenge… a summer vacation to end all others. A time to push myself to the limits and to let the voices of others be my fuel to continue. It’s time to start new wheels in motion and see where life will take us all. It time to roll down the window of that Oldsmobile Cutlass and let the journey begin….
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