As her tenure with Canada’s short track speed skating team in Calgary was ending, the pain in Andrea Bower’s back was intensifying.
And as she sought relief, she took a chance on a something not many would have prescribed – running.
Now back home in New Brunswick, Bower is celebrating 15 years of running for ‘the fun of it,” as she navigates life as a teacher, wife and mother.
Back then, Bower, now 40, was a member of the Canadian short track speed skating team, competing and succeeding against the world’s best. However, she ultimately suffered a severe lower back injury, one that forced her to retire in December of 2001, when after aggressive treatments, she was unable to finish competing at the 2002 Olympic Trials.
“It was pretty bad and I was left with couch rest,” she explained of the follow up routine. “It was pretty low activity but lots of pain. Then I got walking, then walking briskly and then one day, I said forget this and tried taking some running steps.
“I was thrilled to be able to find something I could do that would not aggravate my back. That really is how I got into running.”
She was unsure how far or how fast she’d be able to run but over time, like many, her distances grew and her pace increased, allowing her to gain enough confidence to register for a fun run – a Mother’s Day 10 km event in Calgary.
During the process, she attempted several activities that would allow her to be active and free of pain but the best solution came from running, and essentially became her go-to form of fitness, one she’s maintained through the birth of her two children and her return to Fredericton in 2009 with husband Shawn.
Now a French immersion teacher in the Anglophone West School District, she’s running regularly and taking part in events whenever she can. For example in May, she participated in the half marathon on Mother’s Day in Fredericton and a few weeks later, ran the Fredericton YFC Runway 5 km race, where she finished 52nd in the 321-person field in a time of 25:38.
“For Andrea, the time and the placings mean little as she covets the group feel of the races, each person trying to improve their own times but not worried about winning, virtually anonymous among one another.
That aspect is something she discovered at her first race in 2002 in a field of 6,000 Calgary and area racers and something she’s enjoyed in her new sport ever since.
“I was pretty happy to run an event among thousands of people,” she said. “I got a racing number again, I am one of 6,000 and it is all for fun. That is where I got hooked – it was sport, for fun.
“I loved skating and it was my passion but it was great to find something else that is also fun.”
In her speed skating environment, cycling was often the cardio choice, with running reserved for the wind sprints or the dreaded hills or tempo training activities.
After her injury, she’s been delighted with the challenges and benefits of distance running.
Her move back to her native Fredericton almost eight years ago meant she left her regular running partner and it was one of the most difficult aspects of the transfer, as finding the motivation to run was tough while she adjusted to a new life in her old home.
But running in Calgary and Fredericton provided some similar environments such as paved running paths next to a river in both cities and plenty of trails to get away from vehicles.
That assisted her greatly.
“There is always a physical benefit, now matter if I push myself or if it is a jog,” she said. “The mental health aspect has been great because it is outside, it is sunlight, it is endorphins, time with new found friends or time to be alone.”
“I love the social part but other times, I love the solitude of it when I need some time in my own head to think.”
She says that competing in the 2005 Vancouver Marathon with her husband Shawn ranks as her biggest running accomplishment.
“As a goal, I wanted to run a marathon once in my life and I decided I should do that before I had kids, before I turned 30 and before I graduated from education so that I would have time to commit to training.”
She figures she’s completed 14 or 15 half marathons, competed in major events in the Maritimes and is thinking about attending the Maritime Race Week in Halifax this year along with the Fredericton Fall Classic and the Legs for Literacy in Moncton.
Mark Kirby, who we featured in this forum last year, is running 50 miles Sunday to honour the memory of his sister Suzanne, who would have turned 50 on Monday.
His route will cover most of the points of Suzanne’s life that were important to her, starting in the Village of Gagetown, moving along Highway 102 to Oromocto, into Fredericton, then to New Maryland.
Suzanne died in 2009 from ovarian cancer and the proceeds from Mark’s run will be donated to ovarian cancer research. You can find details on the run and also make a donation by searching Suzie-Q-Saders at http://www.terryfox.org/run/fundraising-events/.
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.