I’m known for what I use my body to do. Run fast. Or as I put it, run reasonably quick for long periods in mostly straight lines. I’ve always loved to run.  But I’ve always viewed it as a means to end. I love to run, but I am not always in love with it. Running was a means for me to separate myself from my sisters and their more dominant figure skating skills. It was a way for me to run away from my family when being one of seven kids in a small townhouse proved to be too much.  It was what I did to clear my head or deal with any form of upset. I literally could and would run away.  Running provided me opportunities in terms of scholarships for school, and later, sponsorships to represent our country.  What I took for granted until this past year, was how much running and moving my body was my form of mental health wellness.And it’s this realization, which hasspurred me to become an Ambassador for the SHOPPERSLOVE.YOU. Run for Women, in support of local mental health initiatives for women.

Last year I went septic.  Infection flooded through my body for eight days and when I came out of the hospital I was a physical and emotional wreck.

My physical body came back online relatively quickly.  And I could go on and on about the benefits of exercise for overall fitness and our waistlines, but if I am to be a “role model” for women and girls because of my sporting achievements, then I see my job as more. 

I remember being a teenager and my mother saying to me “you’re in a mood. Go for a run”.  As an adult, I’m thankful for her advice.  I’ve always known that I feel better after I run. And when I’ve not been able to run due to illness or injury, which still makes me moody, I feel better if I get out and move my body.  And it’s not all in my head!  Studies do show that aerobic exercise – like running – can be used to help treat mild to moderate depression.

Because I am so accustomed to using body movement to help keep me happy and balanced, I was better able to sense when things were still “off” after my hospital discharge.  Each month I’d have days where getting myself out the door for a run almost had me in tears. I have procrastinated runs before.  I have purposely not showered after a morning run to make sure I get out for my evening session.  Like I said, I’ve always loved running. I’m not always in love with it.

But what I experienced last summer was different. 

And because I know I struggled to be vocal about what I was feeling, let me be vocal here in the hopes of helping some of you.  It wasn’t just PMS; I wasn’t just moody because it was “that time of the month”.  My body was trying to signal to me that something was wrong.  I am a professional runner. I am used to pushing through discomfort.  I am overly pragmatic and am certainly not known for being all that emotional a person.  But there I was, once a month struggling.  Crying because my water bottle spilt on me in the car.  Everything hurt my feelings. I had zero coping skills.

Women are almost twice as likely as men to develop depression at some point in their lives.  That stat surprised me when I first read it, but I think I have a better understanding now.  The demands on our bodies coupled with the swings in our hormones monthly can affect us more than I would have thought possible. For a period of time I felt helpless and frustrated by the lack of understanding or awareness I was finding in the medical world.

I used the tools I had available – my love of research and my desire and need to move my body – to work towards figuring out what wasn’t right with me.  To be clear, a lot of things weren’t right with me. But nothing was wrong with me.  Dealing with mental health and wellness issues doesn’t mean we are broken.  There is nothing wrong with you.  I learned what was necessary to address my monthly drops in my mood – fixing my diet, removing the stresses that I could, and accepting that running serviced me more than a way to run away – and finally by this spring, started to feel like myself again.

I celebrated my one-year anniversary of the surgery that left me septic last week.  I was also hormonal.  A few months ago, that would have been a recipe for disaster. Instead, I spoke openly about what happened last year and got out the door for training as per usual.

I am grateful for my mother’s advice all those years ago. Building back my body took time. I couldn’t run immediately, so I started walking.  Then I began playing at the gym on different cardio machines and also signing up for different fitness classes at a Women’s Only Boutique in Toronto. Building my emotional and mental health back took a wee bit longer. But the more I moved my body the better I felt.  The more I got my sweat on with other women in the community, the more empowered I became. As my Mum would put it “the Brat was back”.

The more I move my body – the more I run, the better I realize that I don’t need to use running to run away from emotional upset.  I’m running towards my happiness.

I’m not a mental health expert. I’m not a doctor – though I’ve spent the better part of my post-Olympic life researching my health and mental wellness to the point that I feel like one.  I’m a lawyer. I’m a runner. I’m a woman.  And it is because of those titles that I am coming to a better understanding of my body and my emotional health.

Instead of running away from stress, anxiety, hormonal mood swings, or depression. Run towards your mental health.

On Saturday, June 9th, I’ll be running in the Toronto SHOPPERS LOVE.YOU. Run for Women, to help other women take the next step to recovery. Proceeds from the Toronto run will benefit women’s mental health initiatives at Women’s College Hospital.

If you sign up under the “LOVE. YOU. Ambassadors” team in any city, you’ll have a chance to win one $150 gift from Shoppers Drug Mart, or a pair of shoes ($175 value) from the Running Room!

Here’s how to join me and thousands of others across the country:

1. Select the city you live in

2. Answer whether or not you are an SDM employee

3. Copy/Paste “LOVE. YOU. Ambassadors” into the team search bar

4. Register for the 5k run/walk team, with your information