Inspiring stories: These readers challenged themselves for charity

These Best Health readers tackled challenges like a 5K mud run, a 5K paddleboarding race, and even a run from Montreal to Toronto’all in the name of charity!

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Simone Gunn, 40; Kaministiquia, Ont.

What I did: Dirty Girls 5K Mud Run
The cause: Canadian Cancer Society
What I raised: $500

I trained for this run to meet my goal of being in the best shape of my life by my 40th birthday. My husband and I both have strong, inspirational women in our family who are breast cancer survivors, so this was a huge motivation to give this day 110 percent.
The August event was a slog through almost six kilometres of muddy swampland in Murillo, Ont., which is near Thunder Bay, and included 10 obstacles. One was a waterslide that ended in a muddy pool; another was a huge tire wall. There was the option to bypass any obstacle, but I was determined to finish them all, and I did.

My team of five included my oldest childhood friend; this is the second time we’ve done it. We all had different fitness levels, so for us it was about camaraderie, working as a team, knowing we were contributing to a great cause-and having a blast! We raised $1,100 as a team, mostly through social media and the support of family, friends and professional connections.

To train for the event, I exercised five days a week, mainly by running, and doing workout DVDs at home (I love P90X, Jillian Michaels and the Insanity Workout by Shaun T). I eliminated refined sugar and carbs from my diet, and replaced them with fruit, veggies, whole grains, and healthy fats from olive oil, avocados and nuts.

I definitely achieved my goal of being in my best shape ever, and I am very proud of my determination and dedication. I am strong, fit and, most importantly, I am healthy. It feels great!

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Akshay Grover, 16; Montreal

What I did: Ran from Montreal to Toronto in 13 days
The cause: Childhood Cancer Canada Foundation
What I raised: $12,691

I began my 505K run- “Akshay Grover’s Run to Toronto for Childhood Cancer”-from Montreal to Toronto on August 1, covering 42K a day until I arrived at the Childhood Cancer Canada headquarters on August 13. I did this run for childhood cancer because Zach Sobiech, one of my favourite musicians, passed away from the disease in 2013 at the age of 15. Terry Fox has also been a huge inspiration for me.

Running has always been one of my passions, and I wanted to do something I love in order to help others. To fundraise, I set up an online donation page and made a short promo video that I shared on social media. When news outlets got word of the story, larger donations started to come in. I also sold event T-shirts, which helped cover the costs of the run.

Training for this feat was very tough; I was running about 200K a week while going to Pierrefonds Comprehensive High School. For the actual 13-day run to Toronto, I covered 27K each morning and then 15K in the afternoon to avoid the hottest part of the day. (Day 8 was particularly hard because I woke up late and had to run through the hottest hours of the day; I ended up getting heat stroke.) I suffered minor injuries throughout, mostly problems with my hips and feet. My mother was there for me all along the way, driving the support car, preparing meals and organizing places to stay.

All the hard work and dedication paid off in the final moments of my run. I felt like anything is possible, and that young people are fully capable of taking on this type of physical challenge.

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Donna Rowan, 41; Toronto

What I did: 60K walk
The cause: The Shoppers Drug Mart Weekend To End Women’s Cancers
What I raised: $2,472

My mother died of breast cancer in September 2004. This year marked my 10th year walking in her honour in this event. I always meet new people on the two-day, 60K route; we share stories along the way, during lunch, and at camp overnight.

I’m pretty active in my daily life, so training for this is mostly mental for me. I have had various injuries over the years, but I’ll do this walk regardless of my physical condition or the weather (in two recent years, there have been torrential downpours). Last year I did the walk less than a week after breaking my toe. But the pain experienced by women who undergo radiation and chemo treatments is much worse than the blisters and cramps I had to put up with during the walk. I’m determined to take part no matter what ails me because, to me, it’s always been more than just a walk. Over 10 years, I’ve raised $20,000! And I’m excited that my daughter has agreed to walk with me next year.

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Kelly Russell, 49; Petawawa, Ont.

What I did: 5K stand-up paddleboard race
The cause: Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO)
What I raised: $515

I chose this event because I wanted to help sick children in my area. I started stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) in May, after my husband bought me a board for my birthday. I began on Black Bay, at the end of my street, and worked up to a few kilometres. I heard that the inaugural CHEO SUP fund­raiser would be held on the Ottawa River on August 9, and thought it would be a good goal to set for myself.

I have noticed a huge difference in my strength and endurance since I started SUP. I think that I’ve lost a bit of weight as well, but I’m not too concerned with that; I love the sport because it feels great to be on the water enjoying nature. It’s very peaceful.

On race day, I was a bit nervous, but soon got into the groove. I placed first in the 5K race, in just over an hour. Next year I want to do the 12K distance option-and double how much money I raise!

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