This story ran in the May 13th edition of the Daily Gleaner.
When Carole Van Ember started running, she wanted to develop an improved healthy lifestyle, one that would allow her to enjoy quality time with family and friends for many, many years. The inspiration resulted from a powerful and painful memory for the Fredericton resident, who has called the city home for more than a decade.
Back in 2007, her mother Madeline died at the age of 55 from uterine cancer, less than seven days after Carole‘s son Bruce was born, in what she described as, “the best week and the worst week of my life.“
“She had had some health problems and at 30, I seemed to be following her pattern,” said Carole of her motivation to take up the sport at a Learn to Run Clinic in 2013.
“I was getting the same health issues at the same ages as my mother and I decided I did not want to go down that route. I wanted to be healthy around my family and friends for as long as I could be.”
Over time, participation that initial 5 km running clinic led to another, then another, albeit at a longer distance. Eventually, she was co-leading a half-marathon clinic, all the while improving her physical health. She ran in several editions of the Scotiabank Fredericton Marathon, gaining confidence from her 5 km results and last February, she completed the chilly hypothermic half marathon in Moncton.
Yet, the improvements in her times and physical health were not the only aspects in which she benefitted from running.
“The last number of years, to be honest, I have struggled with mental illness,” she said.
“Running has become almost meditative for me. Once I get going, your breathing is balanced, you have one foot after another, you are looking around at nature or enjoying the wonderful people you are out with. For me, it is hitting a stage of flow. It is very relaxing and very calming. I have found for myself, my relationships with my family and my friends all do better when I do better.”
Which leads to this Mother’s Day, an especially poignant anniversary for Carole, marking the 10th anniversary of her mother’s passing and the celebration of her son’s 10th birthday.
Originally, she was going to spend the day with her immediate family and possibly go for a training run.
But when volunteers were required for this weekend’s 39th edition of the Scotiabank Fredericton Marathon went out, her running senses kicked in and she knew she had to help. It would, she felt, celebrate the day and what it meant to her as well as saluting the significance her new running family has played for her.
“I have found a second family with my buddies in the Fredericton running community,” she said. “When I am out with them, it is fun, enjoyable, social, inclusive and supportive. It is everything you would hope for in an enabling sense of community. I felt like I could support my friends who put all this time and effort in organizing the race and also have my Mother’s Day to celebrate the friends who have become family, as well as my own family.”
On Sunday, she’ll be stationed along the route, offering support to the 1,800 or so participants, each meeting their race aspirations, goals which Carole fully comprehends.
In fact, she’s planning to take part in another anniversary race next year – when the Fredericton Marathon celebrates 40 years.
For Carole, there are no time requirements, just an enjoyment of this week’s race from the sidelines with understanding of the process of getting to another start line down the road.
It is another area where Carole, who is open and honest about life’s challenges, is dealing with, both physically and mentally.
“One of my major goals is to learn to enjoy the process, rather than putting all the eggs into a race basket,” she said. “A lot of my life, I have been very driven and in healthy doses, that is a healthy adaptive mentality but when it gets to be too excessive, it can be damaging. Part of my goal set is to let go and enjoy the process.”
Prior to living in Fredericton, Carole and her husband Dennis, both Nova Scotia natives, lived in several cities across Canada through her work as an analyst with the federal government and his employment as a police officer.
As she’s become established in New Brunswick, she’s gained support from those enjoying the runner’s high on a long run, a quick jaunt after work or a run before the weekend’s chores kick in.
Admittedly, her first steps back in 2013 were treacherous but they have improved to a feeling of anticipation and calm.
“When I first started out I was terrified. I always thought I would never be able to keep up with folks who were faster and more accomplished than I was,” she admits.
“The running community is so supportive and I have found that my running buddies have formed some of the best friendships and connections of my adult life. For that I am tremendously thankful.”
One of the great side stories of the Fredericton Marathon is the emergence of the Youth Fun Run.
Since its debut in 2011, it has grown from 75 participants to 520 runners in 2016, a jump of almost 600 per cent.
With changes from the city that have allowed for the closure of St. Anne’s Point Drive, the organizers are hoping for record numbers today.
There are 500 metre, 1k and 2k races. Registration is from noon to 1:30 p.m. at the Fredericton Convention Centre with races at 2 p.m. Participants receive a t-shirt and a medal, a great deal for the $2 registration fee.
Kevin Barrett’s column appears every other Saturday. If you have a suggestion for a feature story, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit barrettkevin.wordpress.com.