Inspiring fitness stories from our readers

Get inspired by Best Health readers to challenge yourself to a goal’and fundraise for charity at the same time

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Jennifer Goodwin, 38; Maple Ridge, B.C.

My achievement: 150K bike ride over two days
The cause: Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada
What I raised: $300

One spring a few years back, I needed something positive to focus on. Sadly, my mom had recently taken her own life. I wanted to spend time with my husband and outdoors, to help me deal with this difficult period. I also wanted to do good for others. I picked this 150K two-day bike ride through the Fraser Valley in support of multiple sclerosis. I wasn’t riding for anyone in particular, but as a teen I had a good family friend with MS, and I’d seen what the disease did to her body.

My husband and I formed a team with our friend Alex and his dad, Ken; each of us had to raise a minimum of $250 (my family and friends were very generous). To prepare for the ride, I took a spinning class three times a week, plus did some road cycling with my husband.

The morning the event began was quite something because there was a wall filled with signs of who people were riding for. I felt such compassion for all of these people. The ride was mostly flat, but there were a few challenging hills. There were rest stops at various wineries where wine could be purchased (and picked up at the finish area). Day 1 ended at Trinity Western University for dinner, and we had an even­ing of learning about MS from researchers and people diagnosed with it. We stayed overnight in the dorms.

Next morning, we hit the road for the final 75K. I felt a bit emotional riding through an area where my mom had grown up; I recalled many family stories as I rode this stretch. I also got emotional at the finish line, because I’d never done anything like this before. Taking on this challenge was part of my healing.


(Image: Jennifer on a summer bike ride to Fort Langley, B.C.)

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Florina Vaz, 35; Toronto

My achievement: 10K run
The cause: SickKids Hospital
What I raised: $200

Running my first 10K in 2013 was a step in getting-and staying-healthy for my two active little boys. After having my kids, I realized how important it is to keep up my health in order to be a better mother. I notice that while many women from my community do a lot for their families, they may neglect themselves. I immigrated here at age 18 from the Middle East; there, gyms weren’t for women, and I rarely saw women walking (let alone running) for fitness. Living in Canada and observing the nature around me, I realized we are blessed to be here and live a healthy lifestyle. I want to be an advocate for how important it is for women-not just those of my community or colour, but all of us-to take care of ourselves and in turn take care of the people who love us.

My first run was a GoodLife 5K in 2011. That encouraged me to push myself harder and move daily. I did four more, and since my first 10K, I plan to do at least one more this year, and will even focus on running a half-marathon this year!

Running has become a part of my daily routine. I’m a better mother, and a happier woman, thanks to taking that first step: signing up for my very first run.

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Lynda Gernon, 52; Pickering, Ont.

Lynda Gernon, 52; Pickering, Ont.

My achievement: 5K walk
The cause: Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of Canada (CCFC)
What I raised: $750

In 2012, my teenage son, Jamie, was diagnosed with severe ulcerative colitis (UC) and spent a lot of time in the hospital. When I found out about the 5K walk to raise money for CCFC, my 25-year-old daughter, Jessica Romaniuk, and I signed up. To raise money, Jessica went door to door, and offered home-baked cookies for every donation. I used Facebook and email as my primary means of fundraising.

This was my first walk for this cause, and I plan to do it again this year. I’ve always been a “walker” and occasional jogger (when my knees allow it). My husband is a triathlete so he leads by example about how important fitness is in your daily life. I have to say, this walk motivated Jessica to move more-she has started running, and would like to enter a 5K community run this season. She has taken part in Special Olympics (short distances in track and speed skating); she doesn’t have physical challenges but some intellectual ones-incredibly poor depth perception, and poor perception of time and distance. She’s now working on that and these activities are really helping her cardio. She is an inspiration!

As for Jamie, he is doing much better. He still suffers from UC symptoms but is attending college full-time, works as a manager in a fast-food restaurant and volunteers year-round with Special Olympics. He is an amazing young man with a terrific attitude.

It’s important to support your community. I’m proud to say that our three children (we have another daughter, Joren) each find a way to fit both fitness and volunteering into their lives.

(Image: Lynda (with daughter Jessica) plans to do another 5K walk this year).

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Julie Dunsterville, 43; North Vancouver

My achievement: Completed a total health makeover
The cause: Canadian Cancer Society
What I raised: $1,420

As a stage III colon cancer sur­vivor (four years cancer free-yah!!), I was looking to challenge myself to get in better shape and lose some weight. I’m passionate about doing everything I can to get fit, healthy and strong so I can stay cancer free. I believe we have an influence over our cancer risk and overall health, and I want to be a role model to others, especially other moms who are cancer survivors (I have two boys, age 12 and eight). So I joined a challenge put together by Kins Market, a chain of grocery stores, and I was chosen to represent North Vancouver.

Taking this on gave me focus and motivation. I was walking my dog frequently, but wasn’t exercising nearly enough. I started swimming and going to the gym, and took up Zumba.

To step it up, I also got the help of a personal trainer. I do eat a mainly plant-based diet, but I started making fresh green juices almost every day. A typical daily juice for me now is a cup of kale, two cups of spinach, two carrots, two celery stalks, an apple, half a cucumber and some pineapple. I also enjoy Vega shakes made with blueberries and a banana.

It was so encouraging to see all the improvements I made over the three months of the program, including 10 pounds of fat loss, an increase in bone mass, improved cardio, lowered cholesterol and overall improved fitness ability, strength and flexibility. And I lost 15 pounds.

Life is sweet, amazing and full of vigour and activity. My two boys keep me busy! I truly feel blessed to be alive and to see them grow up. While cancer was hell to go through, it has given me a zest and appreciation for life that I would not have necessarily been so keenly sensitive to. To cele­brate being Four Years Healthy, my husband, our two boys and I took a trip to Maui for a week of sun, snorkelling and, of course, some celebratory mai tai’s.

I hope through my story that I can be an inspiration and motivation to other women.

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Suzanne Larkin, 37; Ottawa

Suzanne Larkin, 37; Ottawa

My achievement: A day of fitness challenges
The cause: Ottawa Regional Cancer Fdn.
What I raised: $12,365 over three years

I raise funds for cancer by doing “Bust a Move for Breast Health.” My sister and I found out about it at a health expo; we had lost our father to lung cancer and thought this would be a fun way to raise funds.

I’ve done it three times, and it’s a blast! The event is a day-long fitness extravaganza-you do yoga, hip hop, aerobics, etc. The first year, I didn’t train that much, and just jumped into it; I have been fit off and on my entire life, and have always eaten relatively well. But the second time I did the event, I did train for it, and it was much easier to complete it. The third time, this February, I have to say I didn’t do a ton to prepare; this winter was brutal in Ottawa, so it was hard to get motivated to get out to the gym.

It is a wonderful event. Some participants are cancer survivors, inspirational women who have fought hard to be there with us. Plus, who doesn’t like to come up with costumes and have fun?!

I had no idea that my team would be able to raise that much money. I did so by a combination of simply asking family and friends to sponsor me, and also holding fundraising events.

The main one is called Pampered in Pink; it’s a girls’ night out of pampering. You get your hair, nails, makeup and henna done, and you shop. You mingle, have drinks and simply have a good time, all in the name of charity. Everyone involved-hairstylist, makeup artists, nail technicians and a henna artist-donated their time and talent. The vendors also donated a portion of their sales to our team.

I was amazed by how giving people can be; they really wanted to be a part of our event and give back to the community. I cannot thank them enough.

(Image: Suzanne (far left) with the “Bosom Buddies” team: Cathy, Ryan, Rosanna and Dolores.)


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