Inspiring stories from Best Health readers

Come on, Canada! Get inspired in 2014 by Best Health readers to challenge yourself to a goal’and help a charity at the same time

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Sindy Hooper, 51; Ottawa

Sindy Hooper, 51; Ottawa

My achievement: Completing an Ironman competition
The cause: Pancreatic Cancer Canada
What my husband and I raised: $38,807

On Jan. 2, 2013, I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. I was devastated and scared, but was diagnosed early enough to be eligible for surgery (only 15 percent are). Half my pancreas, half my stomach, my gallbladder, and one third of my small intestine were removed. After surgery, I was told I would receive radiation and chemotherapy for the next eight months.

I was advised that moderate exercise would be good for me. I was already registered for the Ironman Canada triathlon in August, and wanted to give it a try. (It consists of a 3.86-kilometre swim, a 180-kilometre bicycle ride and a marathon run.) The year before, I had completed my first Ironman in 11 hours and 38 minutes, and I loved it. So I wanted to start swimming, biking and running again at an easy pace when I was able, and just see what I could do. Plus, my husband, Jon, and I wanted to raise awareness of and money for Pancreatic Cancer Canada (PCC).

Two weeks post-surgery, I started walking again. Soon after, I was back on my bike trainer and in the pool. At times, the physical pain and mental exhaustion of surgery, chemo and radiation were more than I could bear. So why did I keep exercising? When I go to chemo and look at my scar, I feel like a cancer patient: sad and scared. But when I swim, bike and run, I feel like an athlete: healthy, happy and hopeful.

On Aug. 25, I finished the Ironman in Whistler, B.C., along with Jon, in 16.5 hours-just 30 minutes shy of the 17-hour race cut-off. It was an incredible day.

My last chemotherapy was in September. I hope to be fully recovered from surgery, radiation and chemo by the end of March. I'm registered for two half-Ironmans in 2014, with the goal of qualifying for the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Mont-Tremblant, Quebec, this September.

My advice to others is to not take life for granted. Live each day to the fullest, with gratitude and happiness for all you are able to experience with your family and friends.

 

Pictured: Sindy with her husband, Jon, as they finished the Ironman.

2 / 17
lorin

Lorin Klein, 50; Toronto

My achievement: Cycled 200 kilometres in two days
The cause: The Ride to Conquer Cancer, benefiting Princess Margaret Hospital
What I raised: $3,200

I wasn't an endurance rider when I registered for this ride, so I used this as my challenge to become that rider.

I trained early in the mornings three to five times a week, doing spin classes or cycling alone on a stationary bike. Once the snow melted, I beat my fear of group riding and did 50-100K training rides despite cold, rain and wind.

For The Ride to Conquer Cancer, I joined a team formed by my friend and her brother six years ago when their sister was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. "Team Erin" started with seven cyclists; last year, it had 70. (To date, the team has raised $1.2 million!)

I was also riding in memory of my beloved parents and father-in-law, all of whom have died of cancer. I knew the 200-kilometre journey from Toronto to Niagara Falls over two days would be emotional. Riding beside my husband, Tommy, and seeing my cheering kids with signs at the finish line was an incredible experience. Everyone made it a positive and fun event, as we rode to celebrate survivors and encourage those battling cancer. I proudly rode strong, with hope for prevention and a cure. I'll be doing it again this year.

Pictured: Lorin, after finishing The Ride to Conquer Cancer.

3 / 17
gloria

Gloria MacKinnon, 29; Edmonton

My achievement: 10K walk
The cause:
Hope Mission
What I raised: $1,500

"The Coldest Night of the Year" is a 10K walk in winter to experi­ence what homeless people go through. It's held across Canada annually. I'll be participating this year for the third time. The purpose is for the participants to experience in a small way what it's like for homeless people trying to keep warm in winter.

The 10K route is in the downtown core where the majority of Edmonton's homeless people are. The first year I did the walk, we had a blizzard. It was tough. There were a lot of slips and falls, and moments when you wanted to give up, but my team persevered.

This cause is important to me because I believe everyone deserves love, shelter and food. I'm blessed to have a job and a home, but not everyone is. Hope Mission provides hot meals, shelter and a rehabilitation program for youths and adults. They also have an emergency vehicle that operates 24/7, driving through the city streets to offer assistance to anyone who may need it. They can provide a meal to someone for less than $3, so the funds raised have a real impact.

I fundraise via Twitter and Facebook, and by sending emails and messages to friends and family. And I make sure I support others in their fundraising endeavours.

4 / 17
erin

Erin Milliard, 35; North Vancouver

My achievement: Various runs (a 5K, 8K and half-marathon)
The cause: The Arthritis Society
What I raised: $5,000

I'm passionate about doing these runs to raise money for, and awareness of, arthritis. I was diagnosed with anky-losing spondylitis eight years ago, when I was in my 20s; it was very difficult to wrap my head around it. I had always been active, but now running seemed to be so hard. So I made it a goal to do one run at a time and help raise money to help others. My mentor from the Arthritis Society gave me hope and support. When I crossed the finish line on my half-marathon, I cannot explain to you the feeling of pure joy I felt-like nothing could stop me.

My running helps me stay positive and inspire others that anything is possible, and it helps change the perception that arthritis affects only older people. It has helped motivate me to fight my own battle, and in return help others.

I have great days, and bad days. I try to balance exercise with a positive attitude, and always have a goal in sight. I've achieved more from my diagnosis than I ever expected, and have decided to go back to school part-time in the medical field in hopes of one day becoming a mentor to someone like myself.

5 / 17
brenda

Brenda Murray, 37; Toronto

My achievement: 3K run
The cause:
SickKids Toy and Game Fund
What I raised: $1,715

Raising money for this Hospital for Sick Children fund is very important to me. The fund buys toys for children, and the toys are used for both therapeutic and recreational play. I have a younger cousin with cystic fibrosis and, knowing what he has been through, to my mind there is nothing more important than helping children like him in any way that I can. I also have three young children of my own, two of whom (my twins) were born two months premature and stayed in a neonatal intensive care.

The Santa Speedo Run was Dec. 14. I'd done this event before, but this was my first one after skipping two years when my kids were born. One of my goals was to be able to fit into my pre-baby Speedo again! I'd say the training was the easy part, and the event itself was the real test: There was a snowstorm this year, and it was -21º with the wind chill! You never really get a chance to warm up in that kind of cold.

Pictured: Brenda and her husband, Steve Wilson, on Santa Speedo Run day.

6 / 17
Joëlle Choueiry

Joëlle Choueiry, 27; Ottawa

My Achievements: Ran my first 10K race and participated in dragon-boat racing
The Cause: Mental-health awareness and local charities
What I Raised: $250

I ran in the Shoppers Drug Mart Run for Women 10K, which supports mental-health research. I am a PhD student in neuroscience and my research is focused on schizophrenia. I've been touched by patients' stories; so many are marginalized because of stigma. I'd wanted to run a race but never found the inspiration to do it until this past spring: Our team from the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre (we also did dragon-boat racing to raise funds for local charities) was the support I needed to finish the run in under an hour. I did it in 53 minutes and 39 seconds!

 

Pictured: Joëlle Choueiry in the Run for Women.

7 / 17

My Achievement: Walked four kilometres in an annual event for the past seven years
The Cause: Ovarian Cancer Canada's Aurora Walk of Hope
What We Raised: $100,000 +

Brenda Young, 46; Aurora, Ont.

The Aurora Walk of Hope is a joint effort: my sister, Gayle Palmer; our friend Lisa Salmon; and me. Gayle and I started the event seven years ago when our sister, Debbie, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at age 48. We set a goal of $1,000, and raised $5,000, thanks to the 50 participants. This year we had 150 participants, and have raised more than $100,000 since we started. The best part? Debbie was declared cancer-free this past April!

 

Pictured: Gayle Palmer, Lisa Salmon and Brenda Young.

8 / 17
Brenda Young

Brenda Young, 46; Aurora, Ont.

My Achievement: Walked four kilometres in an annual event for the past seven years
The Cause: Ovarian Cancer Canada's Aurora Walk of Hope
What We Raised: $100,000 +

The Aurora Walk of Hope is a joint effort: my sister, Gayle Palmer; our friend Lisa Salmon; and me. Gayle and I started the event seven years ago when our sister, Debbie, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at age 48. We set a goal of $1,000, and raised $5,000, thanks to the 50 participants. This year we had 150 participants, and have raised more than $100,000 since we started. The best part? Debbie was declared cancer-free this past April!

 

Pictured: Gayle Palmer, Lisa Salmon and Brenda Young.

9 / 17
Bonnie McClung, 49

Bonnie McClung, 49; Binbrook, Ont.

My Achievement: Cycled 500 kilometres in five days
The Cause: The Arthritis Society
What I Raised: $7,800

I used to be a runner, and since 2005 have done a few marathons and half-marathons to raise money for The Arthritis Society (I have psoriatic arthritis). Since then, my physiotherapist has advised me against running. So, in 2012 I chose to go on a group cycling trip to Provence, France. I'd never before cycled for more than an hour, and training was hard; I did more than 100 kilometres a week in the months prior. I didn't hurt until I got off the bike, so I could cycle for hours and not feel bad. The best day was flying down Gorges de la Nesque. And the hardest was the last day: We biked up Mont Ventoux, which was a part of the Tour de France in 2013.

 

Pictured: Bonnie McClung at the Aquaduct at Le Pont du Gard, on the first day of her cycling trip.

10 / 17
Karen Cinq Mars

Karen Cinq Mars, 56; Toronto

My Achievement: Expedition of Hope: "We Climbed Mount Kilimanjaro"
The Cause: Ovarian Cancer Canada
What I Raised: $3,000

I'm vice-president of marketing and business innovation for Ovarian Cancer Canada. This past September, we inaugurated the Expedition of Hope, and 15 hikers participated from across Canada (see one of our photos, right). We reached the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro at Uhuru Peak, Tanzania, on September 27. Our group, led by Macon Dunnagan, who lost his wife to ovarian cancer, raised more than $65,000. The Toronto Sports & Orthopedic Clinic created a 10-week intensive training schedule to help us prepare: weight-training, core strengthening and endurance training. We hope to inspire others to get fit and work toward a huge personal, physical and fundraising challenge.

Each year, some 2,600 Canadians are diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and 1,750 die of it. Ovarian Cancer Canada (ovariancanada.org) is the only national charity dedicated solely to beating it.

 

Pictured: Karen Cinq Mars

11 / 17
bhc

Crystal Reiter, 48; Selkirk, Man.

My Achievement: Expedition of Hope: "We Climbed Mount Kilimanjaro"
The Cause: Ovarian Cancer Canada
What I Raised: $10,400

I'm an ovarian cancer survivor, diagnosed in 2007 with a recurrence in 2011. When I heard about the Expedition of Hope, I thought, Wow, to climb that mountain and to go to Africa! I really wanted to do it, and I did. It was an amazing experi­ence to share with my husband. I see the oncologist regularly, but don't have time to dwell. Each day that I wake up feeling fine-or maybe a little 48ish-I'm grateful!

Pictured, left to right: Markus Fritzinger, Claudia Connor, Sean Connor, Janet Yoneda, Emilie Chiasson, Karen Cinq Mars, Crystal Reiter and Daren Reiter.

12 / 17
Emilie Chiasson

Emilie Chiasson, 33; Halifax

My Achievement: Expedition of Hope: "We Climbed Mount Kilimanjaro"
The Cause: Ovarian Cancer Canada
What I Raised: $3,700

I raised most of my Expedition of Hope donations by hosting a hair and makeup night at a Halifax salon. Stylists and makeup artists demonstrated different hair and makeup looks. We also held an educational session on ovarian cancer called "Knowledge is Power."

Training for the climb consisted of logging many miles and hills with my dog Millie, and I did a boot camp three times a week. The trek itself has a large mental component; you really need to push through the last two days. But I made it to the top-amazing!

Pictured: Emilie Chiasson

13 / 17
Britt Kascjak

Britt Kascjak, 27; Amherstberg, Ont.

My Achievement: Expedition of Hope: "We Climbed Mount Kilimanjaro"
The Cause: Ovarian Cancer Canada
What I Raised: $2,500

In September, my husband, Jano, and I flew to Tanzania to take part in the exciting, and challenging, Expedition of Hope fundraising climb. I am an ovarian cancer survivor. I was active prior to the climb, but I had to adjust my training to get ready, and the climb was a challenge both physically and mentally. As for my husband, he was much less active, so for him this took a lot more preparation. We made a point of hitting the gym together in the months leading up to the trip to help motivate each other. And doing this climb was how my husband and I chose to spend our first anniversary!

Pictured: Britt and husband Jano Kascjak

14 / 17
Claudia Connor

Claudia Connor, 39; Oakville, Ont.

My Achievement: Expedition of Hope: "We Climbed Mount Kilimanjaro"
The Cause: Ovarian Cancer Canada
What I Raised: $5,000 

I did my first 5K run because a friend challenged me to do it after I said five kilometres was just too far to run. While training for it, however, I was diagnosed with cancer. But I did the run anyway, while undergoing chemo (I was bald as a cue ball!).

So when I heard about the Expedition of Hope, I knew this challenge was for me: As a survivor of breast and ovarian cancer, I wanted to prove to myself that cancer wasn't going to have an impact on what I can do.

I trained with the Toronto Sports & Orthopedic Clinic, and a co-worker and I would climb the stairs at lunchtime. But no amount of training can prepare you for that climb mentally, or for how to brave the elements and altitude sickness. By the time you make the final ascent to the summit at 11 o'clock at night, you have had four days of living in cold and wet conditions, eating bland food, having no shower and getting very little sleep. You really learn how far you can be pushed.

Pictured: Claudia Connor

15 / 17
Lisa Kadane

Lisa Kadane, 42; Calgary

My Achievement: Climbed Mount Kilimanjaro
The Cause: Renfrew Educational Services
What we Raised: $7,000

My husband, Blake Ford, and I ascended Africa's highest mountain over eight days in September 2012 to celebrate 15 years of marriage, to check off a bucket-list item-and to raise money for our autistic son's special-needs school, Renfrew Educational Services. We wanted to unfurl the school's banner atop Kili to make the school and our donors proud.
We trained hard during summer, walking at least 10,000 steps a day and weight-training twice a week. Once a week, we drove west from our Calgary home to hike at higher elevations.

We hiked slowly by day and camped each night, our progress noted by the changing landscape and the proximity of Kili's domed peak. The steady pace was meditative-I had hours to think about life, my two children half a world away, or nothing at all.

On summit night, the push to the top took six hours. We left camp at midnight to hike in inky darkness, with a blanket of stars and a line of headlamps illuminating the steep, rocky path that snaked the final 1,200 metres to the "rooftop of Africa."

As I stood on top of Kilimanjaro clutching the banner with my husband at my side, looking down at the soft pillow of clouds covering Tanzania at sunrise, I wouldn't have traded the cold nights or my fatigued muscles for anything.

Pictured: Lisa Kadane

16 / 17
Shannen Eis

Shannen Eis, 36; Vancouver

My Achievement: Ran my first 10K
The Cause: B.C. Cancer Foundation
What I Raised: $500

After completing the Weekend to End Breast Cancer walk for the past three years, I needed a new challenge, and decided to start training for my first 10K run. I chose the Vancouver Underwear Affair, which raises funds for the B.C. Cancer Foundation, because I liked the idea of really needing to train in order to look good in my underwear! The event is so much fun; people go in costume and bare it all for charity (there is also a 5K walk option). My friends and I created a team of nine, including two guys. We raised a total of $9,200, partly by a fundraising night at a local pub. For the Underwear Affair, we wore our best superhero underwear and displayed our super running powers!

Pictured, left to right: Maureen Duteau, Meghan MacLeod, Mark Vaughn, Shannen Eis, Frederique Brisebois.

17 / 17
Andrea Johnston

Andrea Johnston, 34; Kitchener, Ont.

My Achievement: Rode a stationary bike for seven minutes
The Cause: Juvenile Diabetes Research Fund
What I Raised: $1,071

This event is not the most intense physical exercise-corporate teams ride a stationary bike for just seven minutes-but so many people spend the majority of their workday sedentary, and we all need to move more. I had a total of five members on my team for this year's ride, all women, representing Stretch-Fit, which is my own fitness training business. (Besides participating, I also volunteer at this fundraising event.) There are about 40 teams; members of each take turns riding while the rest of the team cheers you during your seven minutes of glory!

Pictured: Andrea Johnston (standing) and friend Sana'a Read (on bike).