Pushing Limits—and What Happens When You Break Through

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Pushing Limits—and What Happens When You Break Through

From the time I could walk I’ve loved the outdoors and loved playing any type of sport I tried. It wasn’t long after learning to walk that I was put on skates; after all, my dad was a professional figure skater. I started playing competitive hockey at age seven and it didn’t take long before my life was consumed by the sport between the games, practices, and year round training. I was never the best player on my team, but I was always one of the hardest workers. My drive and determination helped me get to that next step. I was fortunate enough to be drafted to the Ontario Hockey League and ended up playing three seasons in the league before eventually becoming a varsity athlete at Ryerson University.

When my undergrad came to an end, so too did my hockey career. I was ready to start a new chapter of my life without hockey, but knew that sports and physical activity would always remain a big part of my identity. I was always interested in pushing my body to its limits and knew one day I’d like to challenge myself with endurance activities like marathons, triathlons, and perhaps one day, an Ironman.

I had run a half marathon when I was 19 and knew that at some point I’d like to complete a full marathon. Last year I was encouraged to train alongside a friend, who had recently overcame paralysis, and join him in a 30 km run in April, followed by a full marathon in October 2016. With limited training, I was able to compete and excel at the 30 km run, and was excited to push myself even further for the full 42 km. I continued to train all spring and summer, and was in the best shape of my life leading up to the marathon in October.

Unfortunately, come race day, things did not go as planned. It was surprisingly humid for mid-October in Toronto, but I had run in much warmer temperatures in my training runs, so in my mind I wasn’t concerned. My body on the other hand, was a completely different story. I felt great for roughly the first 25 kms before I started to feel a bit off. I felt as if I was overheating and was finding it difficult to breathe, but as with everything in life as an athlete, I wanted to push through and knew I had the mental toughness to get me to that finish line. As I approached the 33 km mark, things took a turn for the worse. I started experiencing some cramping in my legs, and those highlights of Olympic runners with the Bambi legs started to look (and feel) all too familiar. I tried to keep running, but next thing I remember is waking up in the hospital three hours later.

I had collapsed from extreme heat stroke and dehydration, and ended up spending the next 10 days in the hospital, six of which were in ICU. Between the kidney and liver failure, blood transfusions, and rhabdomyolysis (to name a few), I felt lucky to be able to walk out of the hospital alive, let alone that I was able to do so unaided and with no medications.

What followed was a six week period of no exercise and extreme pain as my muscles continued to break down and deteriorate. For the first time, I became very aware of what life could be like for someone that didn’t have the fortune of experiencing life with an able body. My primary mode of transportation in Toronto was my bicycle. But I could barely walk. From the outside I looked “healthy”, just a 30 lbs skinnier version of myself. So when it came time to hop on a streetcar, climbing those Everest like steps were a nightmare. And having the nerve to sit in priority seating? How dare I. All too often I took for granted or was quick to pass judgement on someone who “looked” able bodied. We never know what someone is experiencing on the inside. For me, this was temporary. I couldn’t imagine being challenged by what we see as simple tasks everyday, for a lifetime.

Unfortunately, I was advised by my doctors not to participate in the #RoadToCACUSS as a rider. Sure, this doesn’t seem like a surprise considering that I almost died running a marathon, or that it should be that big of a deal since I could easily just book a flight or train ride to attend the conference like most of the other attendees. And yes, I understand the magnitude of privilege that I hold for this to even be a consideration. But this was an opportunity for me to bring my passion for athletics into the world of Students Affairs, where at points I’ve felt like an imposter. Fortunately, thanks to my family, friends, and colleagues, I’ve had an overwhelming amount of much needed support. This support has been a great reminder to think of others that could be struggling or in need of accommodation based on the hand they were dealt. We all experience setbacks, some more than others, but as a society it’s important to create spaces and opportunities for everyone, regardless of ability, to feel included and supported.

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Cathy on her bike on Ryerson campus, in black and whiteThe Road To CACUSS Ryerson crew shares a team pic before the adventure begins