Launched: My new baby makes her way into the big world

Gosh, they grow up so fast…

inside the door of Audreys

The display inside the door of Audreys Books.

Letting go of our babies is hard but at some point, they need to stand on their own two feet. And so it was with seventeen-year-old Vienna Fleury, whose official entry into the world took place at Audreys Books in Edmonton on Sunday, October 1st.

The design team at Lorimer Books hit it out of the park with this awesome cover illustration of Vienna Fleury, protagonist of SAVING GRAD.

I LOVE this  cover illustration of Vienna Fleury, protagonist of SAVING GRAD. (Many thanks to Lorimer’s fabulous design team!)

Vienna entered the world in a double book launch–sharing the stage with Miriam from Debby Waldman’s new book, Miriam’s Secret (Orca Books).

invitation to Audreys Books

Audreys was filled with many well-wishers–family, friends and book lovers galore. Kaylyn was our wonderful host.

Kaylyn of Audreys Books welcoming all guests to Audreys Books on traditional Treaty Six land.

Kaylyn of Audreys Books welcomed guests to Audreys Books, situated on traditional Treaty Six territory.

It was great fun explaining how the story for Saving Grad came to be. I also read three excerpts from the novel.

reading from Saving Grad.

I loved the reaction from the crowd when I read about Vienna’s winter arrival in Edmonton during a cold snap. *shivers*

big crowd of well wishers

Debby Waldman brought photos from her grandparents’ farm in upper New York State. The family stories she grew up with about her grandparents living on their farm inspired Miriam’s Secret.

Debby Waldman was the first author speaker.

The best possible group of well-wishers were there celebrating with us. I know this for sure because Vienna told me herself how much she appreciated the warm reception.

Family, friends and book lovers were among the well-wishers at Audreys.

Family, friends and book lovers were among the well-wishers at Audreys.

Orca author, Natasha Deen.

Orca author, Natasha Deen, also came to show her support.

The audience appreciated the draw prizes: gift cards from Audreys Books, and gift cards from Starbucks, in honour of a key character in Saving Grad getting a job there.

Q & A

The signing next began and I got to meet a soon-to-be début author.

How lovely to meet upcoming début YA author, Anna Priemaza.

How lovely to meet upcoming début YA author, Anna Priemaza.

There was much socializing and snacking, and browsing the shelves of Audreys.

Apparently these book lovers can't resist the offerings at Audreys.

Apparently these book lovers can’t resist the offerings at Audreys. Who could blame them?

A wonderful mix of adult and teen readers helped us celebrate the new books.

I loved the mix of adult and teen readers!

(Bonus points to anyone who can spot the authors of Rodent and of the Winterkill series!)

With Vienna now out in the big world and no longer just hanging out with me here, the Spafford-Fitz household feels rather quieter. I’m confident though that Vienna is more than capable of making her way without me/Vienna’s “mom.”

one grateful author

One happy, grateful author

Namaste, darling Vienna! You’ve so got this!

Cool Happenings

Things have been crazy busy here in my writing studio… so busy that I have, once again, neglected my blog. (Sighs) This post is my attempt to remedy that neglect, and to update you on all I’ve been up to.

My big news – and my coolest happening – is that my third book for teens, Saving Grad, was released by James Lorimer & Company Ltd. on August 15th. To say that I’m overjoyed would be a huge understatement.

*clicks heels*  *attempts handsprings*

The design team at Lorimer Books hit it out of the park with this awesome cover illustration of Vienna Fleury, protagonist of SAVING GRAD.

The design team at Lorimer Books hit it out of the park with this amazing cover illustration of my protagonist, Vienna Fleury.

Since Saving Grad‘s release, I have been busy with all kinds of fun promotional events. I even got to visit CBC Radio for an “Edmonton AM” interview with Mark Connolly and Garrette McGowan.

Mark and Garrette; butter tarts

Mark Connolly and Garrette McGowan at CBC Radio reviewing the butter tarts after reviewing SAVING GRAD.

Mark and Garrette were both warm, enthusiastic hosts who, among their many fine qualities, are appreciative diners when it comes to my homemade (and famously raisin-free) butter tarts.

Here is a link to the fun interview I had with Mark and Garrette:

http://www.cbc.ca/player/play/1029119555938

For many authors, the days following the release of a new book can be nerve-wracking as those “book babies” that we’ve done our best to nurture and nudge into their best, truest forms are – for the first time – out of our hands.

We of course hope they will be received enthusiastically by readers and by reviewers, and I’m delighted that has been the case with Saving Grad.

Avenue Edmonton magazine

A lovely mention and kind words about SAVING GRAD in Edmonton’s AVENUE  magazine (September 2017)

In the September 2017 issue of Edmonton’s Avenue magazine, the reviewer used terms like “timely, important social issues,” “approachable” and “engaging” when discussing Saving Grad. I could not be happier!

That brings me to today, when I awoke to news of this thoughtful review of Saving Grad by Helen Kubiw, keeper of the well-loved, respected blog called “CanLit for Little Canadians.”

https://canlitforlittlecanadians.blogspot.ca/2017/09/saving-grad.html?m=1

There are few things more gratifying than having a reviewer understand your intent and appreciate your story after you have poured your heart and soul into it. I admit to shedding a few tears when I read these words:

“Like Vienna and Sophie ending up in Edmonton in the middle of winter, the destination may not be an easy one at first but it is a fulfilling one in the end… It’s a story of resilience and strength and making something good out of something bad.”

*wipes eyes*

Wow! So if ever it feels like time for a party, it is NOW…. or rather, on October 1st. Along with Debby Waldman, who is celebrating her wonderful new middle-grade book called Miriam’s Secret (Orca Book Publishers), I will be launching Saving Grad at Audreys Books in downtown Edmonton.

invitation to Audreys Books

Please consider yourself personally invited! I hope you will join me, and of course Vienna Fleury, at Audreys Books on October 1st to help welcome Saving Grad into the world. There will be stories, laughter, books, and of course dozens of raisin-free butter tarts.

Would love to see you there!

Wordpower 2017: Literacy in the Making

Word power is a tour sponsored by Cenovus Energy and organized by the Young Alberta Book Society (YABS). The goal is to promote literacy by bringing Alberta students together with professional authors, illustrators and storytellers from across the province.

Pre-tour prep: picking up my signs at the YABS office with Jenn Plamondon. Very generous of Cenovus Energy to buy copies of our books for the schools involved in the tour.

Picking up my signs from Jenn at the YABS office. Notice too all the books that Cenovus Energy purchased for the schools, in addition to paying the artists’ fees and expenses.

Wordpower North ran from April 24th to April 28th, 2017 and I was proud to be a part of it – travelling to schools in Lac La Biche, Plamondon, and Wabasca, Alberta.

I will never travel as lightly as Gail de Vos but this is an improvement from last year!

I am not an especially light traveller. It didn’t help that the tour began with a snowstorm, requiring heavy boots, mitts, toque, etc.

Although Wordpower wrapped up several weeks ago, my mind keeps flitting back to the many special moments that comprised it, including –

Perfect “bones:”

Even before the tour began, it smacked of perfection by its very structure – or by its “bones.” After all…

Happy tour partners... Gail de Vos and me at Oski Pasikoniwew Kamik School in Wabasca.

Happy tour partners… Gail de Vos and me at Oski Pasikoniwew Kamik School in Wabasca.

…I was returning to a region of Alberta that I adore; I got to share my passion for reading, writing and books with students; and I was touring with Gail de Vos  author, storyteller, adjunct professor, and all-round amazing human being.

 

Excited Readers:

Few things excite me as much as discovering a new book. I met many students who feel exactly the same way. Two groups of high-school students – at Mistassiniy School and at École Beauséjour – were the first to hear excerpts from my upcoming book, Saving Grad.

My upcoming Young Adult novel, Saving Grad. (Release date: August 2017)

My upcoming Young Adult novel, Saving Grad. (Lorimer Books: August 2017 release)

Through our book discussions in both English and en français, I’ve learned that students are extra inspired to read a book they feel invested in – something that happens when they’ve had the opportunity to engage with the author. The reactions of these students to a brand new, never-before-been-read book were priceless and inspiring.

(Guess who has been writing harder than ever since her return from the tour?)

The students always inspire me so much. And as I like to warn them: "Anything you say and do might end up in a book."

I often warn the students: “Anything you say or do might end up in a book.”

Compelling Numbers:

Although I’m more of a word person than a number person, these numbers excite me:

Number of tour days: 5

Number of schools visited: 6

Number of students spoken to: 933, broken down as follows… Monday – 290 students; Tuesday – 132; Wednesday – 193; Thursday – 150; Friday – 168.

Grades of students: grade 3 to grade 12

I so enjoyed all 933 students who I met during this year’s tour!

I returned from Wordpower feeling extra secure in knowing I had unleashed many new superheroes on the world. Forest Girl, Mr. Mighty, Oilers Girl, and others. They've so got this!

An added tour perk: I released many new superheroes into the world. Forest Girl, Mr. Mighty, Oilers Girl, and others have so got this!

Amazing students:

They were everywhere…. Aurora Middle School (Lac La Biche); École Plamondon and École Beauséjour (Plamondon); St. Theresa School, Oski Pasikoniwew Kamik School and Mistassiniy School (Wabasca). They all made me feel welcome. Cases in point…

…at École Plamondon: “M” in grade 8 stayed after the presentation because she wanted to share with me this excerpt from her work-in-progress: “Your fear is not what they will do but the fear of not knowing what they are capable of doing.” *shivers*

…at St. Theresa School in Wabasca – 

Grade 5 student: Do you have any friends here in Wab?

Me: No, I’ve never been here before.

Student: That’s okay. You have lots of friends here now.

Me: *heart melts*

and –

….through this email from a grade 7 student at Mistassiniy School – 

“J”: “I found the book that I wanted to show you. It’s called Riding Through Fire. I don’t usually read these kind of books but it really is a good one and I hope you like it.”

(Dear J: Thanks so much for the recommendation. I will definitely read Riding Through Fire. And I’m thrilled that you so enjoyed Vanish!)

 

As Ms. Gullion says: "I tell people I am the principal of the most beautiful school in the province."

As Ms. Gullion says: “I tell people I am the principal of the most beautiful school in the province.” Such pride at Bigstone Cree Nation. Many thanks to everyone for the warm welcome and the beautiful day at Oski Pasikoniwew Kamik School!

One incredible hour after the other:

My final presentation of the tour was in a special-needs program, which I think of as “a single perfect hour of my life.”

The aptly-named “Eagles” made my heart soar. In addition to sharing laughs and chatting about books, animals and pets, the students made me the most thoughtful cards, which I continue to savour.

I only hinted a *little bit* about how much I'd enjoy cards to remember them by.

I only hinted a *little bit* about how much I’d enjoy cards from the students. And yes, I made one in return for these new friends at Mistassiniy School.

Many thanks to Cenovus Energy for sponsoring Wordpower 2017, and to the Young Alberta Book Society for organizing the tour. As a student, I would have benefited greatly from meeting professional writers, illustrators and storytellers. I have seen first-hand that this tour indeed fosters literacy. I’m humbled to have met so many wonderful young readers and writers!

Many thanks, Cenovus and Young Alberta Book Society. It was an honour being a Wordpower 2017 artist!

It was an honour being a Wordpower 2017 artist.

Final Wordpower lesson….

…that people who care about kids, teens, and stories are MY KIND OF PEOPLE!

For example, at Le Goff School – just south of Cold Lake, Alberta – principal Mary Anne Bushore knows each of the students and their families’ personally. She welcomed Gail de Vos and me warmly and beamed while telling us about the school and about the various cultural events the students would soon enjoy with Dene elders from the community.

As for Mary Anne’s words about “Come back and visit us any time you’re in the area….” well, that just could happen!

My tour partner, Gail de Vos, with Le Goff principal Mary Anne Bushore

My tour partner, Gail de Vos, with Mary Anne Bushore, principal of Le Goff Elementary School

At Nelson Heights School in Cold Lake, librarian Shaula Corr arranged for me to speak with two large groups of students in the morning, and to offer a small-group writing workshop in the afternoon to students who could most use a writing “boost.” In so doing, I felt my teaching background and writing expertise were put to optimal use for the students’ sake. Shaula definitely called it, and memories of that wonderful day continue to warm my heart.

Do these students look like they are writing "reluctantly?" I don't think so either. They worked so hard and made me incredibly proud!

Do these students look like they are writing “reluctantly”? I don’t think so either. The entire grade 6/7 group worked so hard and made me incredibly proud. Thanks, Shaula Corr, for the great photo and for the memorable day!

Knowledgeable, dedicated to literacy, and a whole ton o’ fun, Gail de Vos was an ideal tour partner. The same goes for author Hazel Hutchins and illustrator Georgia Graham who were also touring in the Bonnyville-Cold Lake area. The four of us thoroughly enjoyed sharing stories and learning from each other throughout the week.

My fellow Wordpower touring artists: Gail de Vos, Hazel Hutchins and Georgia Graham

My fellow Wordpower touring artists: Gail de Vos, Hazel Hutchins and Georgia Graham.

Cenovus Energy sponsored the Wordpower tour – every nickel of it, including my travel costs, hotels, speaking fees, and my food. And as I told the students, I might be small but I can eat a LOT!

thanking Cenovus at the beginning of my presentation

My “thanks to Cenovus Energy” moment at the beginning of every presentation.

Shelby, a representative from Cenovus, joined me for presentations at H.E Bourgoin School and at Le Goff School. Shelby’s enthusiasm and passion for northern Alberta communities were ever apparent.

Shelby from Cenovus

Shelby’s enthusiasm and general awesomeness were great additions to my sessions. Please feel free to join me any time, Shelby!

The Young Alberta Book Society (YABS) is a literacy-based organization that brings together Alberta students, and working authors, illustrators and storytellers. Hugs and hearts to Stephanie Gregorwich and Jennifer Plamondon of YABS for their commitment to literacy and to Alberta artists.

Steph from YABS proudly offering me the Cenovus Wordpower signs that traveled with me and Gail for the week.

Steph from YABS offering me the Cenovus Wordpower signs that traveled with me and Gail for the week.

I’m grateful for the many teachers and librarians I worked with throughout Wordpower and have truly never met such a caring group of professionals. And a special nod to the Nelson Heights teacher who said these generous words: “In my entire career, I couldn’t have offered the students what those authors did in eighty minutes.”

*heart melts*

No doubt about it, people who care about kids and teens are my kind of people, and they were EVERYWHERE on the Wordpower tour. It was a pleasure crossing paths with them, exchanging stories, and sharing our passion for making the lives of young people better through literacy. #RealLifeHeroes

Cold Lake First Nations

Cold Lake First Nations, where I left a piece of my heart.

And to the students themselves, I so value your incredible personalities and the time we shared together. I hope you’ll keep writing, and I know you’ll keep being your beautiful, amazing selves.

Please remember the promise I made to all of you: “If you work at becoming better writers, your lives will be better and easier in ways you haven’t yet imagined.”

offering my magical writing rules to grade four students.

Offering my magical writing rules to grade four students.

For sharing your time and hospitality, my thanks to the wonderful staff and students of:

In Bonnyville: École Dr. Bernard Brosseau School; Bonnyville Centralized High School; Bonnyville Library; and H.E. Bourgoin School.

In Le Goff and Cold Lake: Nelson Heights School; Le Goff School; Cold Lake High School; Le Goff School; Cold Lake Middle School.

Wordpower Lesson #3: Special-needs students are called “special” with good reason

Over the next several days, I’ll continue to share some lessons I learned from the Cenovus Wordpower 2016 tour. Today, it’s my pleasure to write about some experiences working among special-needs learners in the Bonnyville and Cold Lake areas.

When I worked full-time as an elementary and junior-high teacher, numerous special-needs learners were integrated into my grades four, seven and eight classrooms. These students always brightened my classrooms and during the Cenovus Wordpower tour, the special-needs students again brought a welcome light and energy with them.

My fellow Wordpower touring artists: Gail de Vos, Hazel Hutchins and Georgia Graham

My fellow Wordpower touring artists: Gail de Vos, Hazel Hutchins and Georgia Graham

Colin [student names changed], for example, is a junior-high student who thrives within the warm, caring environment of his classroom. Despite the challenges of autism, he is comfortable interacting with the other students and adults around him.

Because some of the autistic students who I’ve met in the past have had difficulty with new people and unfamiliar situations, I gave Colin some space to see if he wished to approach me, as opposed to the other way around.

I was delighted when this young man progressively worked his way nearer me while I was setting up my Powerpoint presentation. When Colin’s teacher introduced me, he even shook my hand.

One of Colin’s favourite activities is doing word scrambles with his classmates. His joy when he successfully solved the puzzles using the words ‘author’ and ‘Karen’ was rivalled only by mine. In fact, I felt like part of the grand prize. As though I’d been anointed “Queen For A Day.”

Inspiring student art in Cold Lake

Inspiring student art in Cold Lake

In the same classroom, I met another special-needs student who engaged me in the most charming conversation ever.

Kolton: Are you an author?

Me: Yes, I am.

Kolton: I know a good book. It’s called Romeo And Juliet. Did you write it?

Me: What a perfectly lovely question. Unfortunately, no, I didn’t write Romeo And Juliet but I wish with my whole heart that I had.

Kolton: *beams*

Me: *also beams*

I love how special-needs students have their own way of making others feel extra special–in their own time, and in their own beautiful way. Lucky, lucky me to have met these wonderful students.

Wordpower Lesson #2: Small People, Big Hearts

Yesterday, I posted about the first lesson I learned on Wordpower 2016: that it’s hard to present to students when you’re crying.

Today, I offer a second lesson: that the size of a student’s heart is generally larger than the size of the student.

 

Photo credit: Shaula Corr

Photo credit: Shaula Corr

One of the younger students who I spoke with during the Wordpower tour pulled me aside after my presentation. She told me that although writing and schoolwork in general come easily to her, that is not the case for a friend of hers. Above all else, “S” is concerned that her friend “doesn’t believe in herself” and “if you don’t believe in yourself, you really have nothing and that’s very sad.”

Wow. Just – wow. “S” is ten years old and has the world by the tail–yet is focused on her friend’s situation. And (gulp) was looking to me for advice.

I took a few deep breaths then said something like this: that believing in yourself is enormously important and that it’s incredibly sweet that she’s worried about her friend. But that I want her to remember that S’s friend actually has one of the most valuable things in the world: a friend who cares about her.

Gail de Vos and me: ready to present and, as always, to learn from our students.

Gail de Vos and me: ready to present and, as always, to learn from our kind-hearted students.

When I later had a moment to reflect, I realized that I need to take this young woman’s advice to heart, especially on those days when writing is hard and believing in yourself is even harder.

“Believe in yourself, Karen.”

Yep, the very reminder we all need from time to time–and it spun out of a conversation with a child half my size.

*heart grows three sizes*

 

Many thanks again to Cenovus Energy for sponsoring Wordpower 2016 and to the Young Alberta Book Society for organizing the tour. 

Lessons Learned From Wordpower 2016: Part 1

I hope everyone will pardon my distracted mental state these days as my mind continually slips away to this question: “What was I doing last week at this time?”

This is because I spent last week doing what many children and teen authors love best in the world: speaking to students. Firing them up about books, stories and the written word.

This “firing up” happened while I was traveling through northern Alberta as one of sixteen authors, illustrators and storytellers who participated in the 2016 Wordpower tour, which was sponsored by Cenovus Energy.

Many thanks to Cenovus Energy for again sponsoring Alberta's Wordpower tour.

Many thanks to Cenovus Energy for again sponsoring Alberta’s Wordpower tour.

Alberta’s kids’ book-touring scene is distinct in that professional artists can not only apply for the Canadian Children’s Book Centre’s “TD Week” tour, but we also have a provincial counterpart through an Edmonton-based organization called the Young Alberta Book Society (YABS).

For the past several years, YABS has organized the one-week Cenovus Wordpower tour, which is dedicated to fostering a love of literacy among Alberta students by bringing them in contact with professional artists from the province.

I was fortunate to be part of this year’s Wordpower tour and I went in GANGBUSTERS! I hope the students learned tons from my presentations and writing workshops. I learned TONS from them too–so much so that I can’t convey everything in just one post…. hence the “part one” status of this week’s multi-day post.

So for today’s instalment, here’s the first thing that I learned:

It’s hard to present to students when you’re crying.

To be clear, the students didn’t do anything bad to make me cry; rather, the students of Le Goff School at Cold Lake First Nations did something all-out wonderful and unexpected and powerful.

But I need to back up a bit first…

While Le Goff teacher, Ms. Christine, helped me rearrange her room for my presentation, she also taught me some words in Dene. I practised and practised and could finally say ‘hello.’ (It sounds like “ay-GLOHN-its-ay.”) To my surprise, when I said it to the students, they not only understood what I was saying BUT THEY SAID IT BACK TO ME!

My tour partner, author/storyteller Gail de Vos, and principal Mary Anne Bushore at Le Goff School

My tour partner, author/storyteller Gail de Vos, and principal Mary Anne Bushore at Le Goff School

I told them they were making me feel very welcome and that at my home, we sometimes greet people in French by saying ‘Bienvenue.’

Then came the magical question from one of the teachers: “Would you like us to sing for you?”

WOULD I??? There is of course only one answer to that question. So out came the guitar and next thing I knew, the students and their teacher were singing me an amazing “welcome song” in English, Dene and in Cree. The beauty of the song combined with the light and the pride in the students’ eyes were overwhelming and, well, I think you know what happened next.

*sniffle, throat and eyes fill, shoulders heave*

I learned that this musical greeting was in honour of me having traveled to share my stories with them and because they wanted to wish me a continued safe journey.

Wow. Just, wow. And like I said, it’s hard to present when you’re crying. The students however graciously waited me out until I could share my stories with them in return.

One of my stories involved a farm adventure from my childhood years and it included farm animals. The students tried to teach me the Dene words for the various farm animals and they only giggled a little at my best efforts to say them.

As it is, the only animal name that I had much success saying was a word that sounds like “goo-goose,” which does NOT mean ‘goose’ as I thought, but PIG. Clearly I need to return for more lessons at Le Goff.

The newly-caped Puppy Girl from Le Goff School clearly shares my dog-loving sentiments.

The newly-caped “Puppy Girl” superhero from Le Goff School clearly shares my dog-loving sentiments.

The students were an enormous amount of fun and the younger group joined me in transforming into superheroes. The world already feels like a kinder, better place.

Along with the hand shakes, hugs, and open invitation to “please return whenever you are in the area” (you bet I will!), my time at Le Goff School–crying and otherwise–was magical and will forever live in my heart.

To all of the fabulous students and teachers at Le Goff School, a big ‘mass-ee’ (with apologies for mis-spelling ‘thank you’ in your beautiful language).

Hypo Half #7: Every Race Is Its Own Story

Every race is its own story.

That thought has been at the forefront of my mind while running dozens of races over the past ten years. So while I’ve been running the various courses, I’ve also been sizing up the athletes around me and speculating about the stories that each brought with them that day.

But today, that didn’t happen. Today, I had more than enough “story” of my own to process.

For the first time in six years, I wasn’t running the full 21.1 km of my beloved Hypothermic Half Marathon. Instead, I was running a short leg of it as a member of the KwadSquad – a push-team dedicated to helping individuals with physical disabilities experience an endurance event that they would otherwise be precluded from.

Unable to run the Hypothermic Half Marathon because of a slow-healing injury, but with “a few kilometres in me” notwithstanding, I had been invited to join the KwadSquad team. Specifically, I’d been honoured with the opportunity to run the final distance with the team and to push Raminder, who suffers from cerebral palsy and cannot walk, across the finish line in her chair.

KwadSquad

KwadSquad

This situation was the result of several people whom I consider “angels.”

The first angel is Morrie, a dedicated member of the KwadSquad. Himself a survivor of a potentially devastating accident, Morrie has since gone on to run the Boston Marathon, and also to carry several physically-challenged friends through endurance events, including half marathons and even a half-Ironman triathlon.

Raminder – also an angel – has now completed several events with Morrie. Only the briefest conversation with Morrie is required to understand the extent to which Raminder, along with her friend and roommate, Chandra, inspire him. I now understand why… but more about that later.

Becky and Raminder

Becky and Raminder

Becky, who is Raminder and Chandra’s caregiver, is adamant that one must NEVER feel sorry for these two women; that their lives are varied and meaningful and filled with constant opportunity. What Becky is less forthcoming about is the extent to which she makes these opportunities happen through her dedication and vigilance to their needs. As I saw today while riding in the support vehicle, Becky is a fierce, kind-hearted advocate for them.

Tanis, yet another angel, is a strong runner who has participated as a push-chair athlete for several events alongside Morrie and Raminder, including the Rotary Run For Life in September 2015 when I first saw the KwadSquad in action. Tanis’s role today involved running and “pushing” with Morrie, while being a second set of eyes to ensure that Raminder’s health and safety needs were met throughout the event.

And finally Justin Ng, the Edmonton Area Event Coordinator for the Running Room, was the superstar who connected me to Morrie and the KwadSquad when I donated my race bib. My request to Justin was that he pass it along to someone who would enjoy the race as much as I have for the past six years. Justin delivered in spades.

Justin at the microphone, greeting runners as they finish the race

Justin at the microphone, greeting runners as they finished the race

That brings me up to today’s event, where I spent most of the actual race doing something unfamiliar: sitting in a support vehicle. Sitting isn’t something I do easily, but I soon found myself caught up in the excitement of watching for Raminder and the rest of the KwadSquad team, which included Morrie and Tanis, at various checkpoints along the course – waiting for my opportunity to join them.

Although I had met Morrie the previous day when he dropped by with my fabulous new race shirt, I hadn’t yet met Tanis and Raminder. Both are delightful and it was an especially sweet moment when I first got to speak with Raminder and to thank her for letting me run with her.

my new favourite fashion statement

My new favourite fashion statement

To say that Raminder’s smile lit up the east end of Edmonton is no exaggeration. Wrapped in a sleeping bag that had pocket-heaters planted throughout it, and with most of her face covered, Raminder was toasty warm while her wide, engaged eyes took in the scenery as it unfolded before her.

Although Raminder has speech challenges, she responded in single words, which were amplified by that broad, warm smile. While I was nervous about manoeuvring her special chair with the fat-bike wheels, I also couldn’t wait for my turn to push Raminder for that precious final leg of the race.

And when it finally happened, it was beyond sweet. Even with Morrie and Tanis on either side of me, and with Morrie offering suggestions to help me better steer the chair over the bumpy course, I suspect my amateur “driving” left something to be desired. I’m sure I lack Morrie and Tanis’s skill at the wheel, but Raminder was a generous, kind-hearted rider.

The moment when we crossed the finish line will be forever etched in my heart. It was an incredible privilege and a joy to take Raminder over the final stretch of the course. I was glad I had packed Kleenex too because – wouldn’t you know it – something hit me full in the eye (bugs are common during our Edmonton winter; really!) and it got a little hard to see.

Team photo: Tanis holding baby Dylan, me, Raminder and Morrie

Team photo: Tanis (holding baby Dylan), me, Raminder and Morrie

Becky of course was waiting at the finish line and when she asked if it had been a bumpy ride, Raminder answered “yes,” offering a sweet smile in my direction. And then that same bug flew into my eye all over again.

After we parted ways, I dearly wanted to head out onto the course – injured foot notwithstanding – because nothing helps me process my thoughts and emotions better than a good run. And many thoughts and emotions were streaming through my head just then.

But the privilege of running the course wasn’t advisable just yet, so I had to defer for the time being. Thankfully, running with Raminder and the rest of the KwadSquad team was privilege enough. They are wonderful. I am grateful.

And yes, every race indeed is a story.

 

Plot Twist: My Hypo Half Streak Continues!!!

What a whirlwind these past few days have been… a beautiful, heart-stopping, mind-blowing whirlwind–so much so that I can barely remember the woman trying not to cry on the physiotherapist’s table a few days ago.

HypoHalf 2012

At the finish line of the Hypo Half 2012 wearing my flashy new medal

If you read my last post, you know that my six-year running streak at the Hypothermic Half Marathon was ending this year due to an injury.

Unable to run that distance myself, I donated my bib for this sold-out event in the hope that whoever received it would enjoy the race as much as I do.

Well, I got much more in return than I ever anticipated.

KwadSquad: kick-ass runners/angels

I soon heard from Morrie, my race-bib recipient. Morrie is a member of the Kwad Squad–a push-team dedicated to offering athlete-partners the opportunity to participate in endurance events from which they would otherwise be precluded.

Morrie and race partner at the Great White North Half Ironman

Morrie and race partner at the Great White North Half Ironman

I can’t imagine a more perfect situation and my tears over missing my seventh annual Hypo Half quickly dried up.

And as if that isn’t incredible enough, I received this follow-up email from Morrie today:

 

As a runner, I know you’re saddened to miss this opportunity to continue your streak of hypo half. I’ve thought of this…. I’m not sure the extent of your injury, but ya think you have 1km or even 1/2 of one in ya? We would love and be privileged to have you push Raminder over the finish line. The feeling you get when you hear the crowd pushing you on and hearing Raminder’s expressions of excitement and joy is absolutely nothing short of amazing.

 

*wipes away yet more tears*

Luckily, I indeed have a few kilometres in me and you can guess what my answer was, right?

And so, I am joining Morrie and Raminder for the final few kilometres of the Hypo Half tomorrow morning.

I’m over-the-moon with excitement that I’ll be part of the push-team supporting Raminder’s first Hypothermic Half Marathon, and we expect to cross the finish line around 11:15 a.m. tomorrow (Sunday, Feb.21st).

The race starts and finishes at the Highlands Golf Club at 6603-Ada Blvd, Edmonton, AB.

If you’d like to help cheer Raminder on as she crosses the finish line, we’d love to see you there!

The Woeful, Wonderful End to my Hypothermic Half Streak

To non-running, non-cold-weather people, the idea of running a half marathon in Edmonton’s winter conditions perhaps sounds like punishment. But the Hypothermic Half Marathon, which is held annually in February, is one of my favourite races.

Hypo Half finisher medals: 2010-2015

My Hypothermic Half Marathon finisher medals: 2010-2015

I’m not alone in loving it. It typically sells out even though two separate race dates are offered, and even though both include two start times to accommodate hundreds of eager runners, like me.

To ensure a spot, I again registered early this year and was pumped about running my seventh annual Hypo Half in early February. My training included embracing minus 30* Celsius temperatures in mid-January for a pre-race gear-testing run. I even ran the first 5 kilometres into a strong headwind to ensure my gear was adequate (it was) before returning home after 17+ kilometres.

The happy look of training in -30c temps in January

The happy look of training in -30c temps in January

It was a fun, memorable run but in the days that followed, I was troubled by a tight left hamstring and a sore right foot. Both seemed minor however and I was confident that by reducing my pre-race mileage somewhat earlier than planned and by seeking some early physiotherapy, I would be race-ready before February 7th. No problem, I told myself.

But with less than a week before my race, my injuries were getting worse. So when the race director sent out an email asking people to consider selling their race bib to someone on the waiting list if they knew they wouldn’t be able to run, I contacted him.

Instead of selling my bib though, I learned that I had another option. I could switch my race date to the second race two weeks later–more than enough time, I was sure, to finish addressing those pesky injuries.

I stepped up my rehab efforts but my injuries persisted. I finally had a frank talk with my physiotherapist who said he’d support whatever decision I made while also cautioning me that if I race on February 21st, I would potentially set my injuries back three or four weeks–which would take me pretty much back to where I started.

My well-needled foot and leg. I'm pretty sure the treatment commonly known as "IMS" stands for "Youch!"

My well-needled foot and leg. I’m pretty sure the treatment commonly known as “IMS” stands for “Youch!”

While still on the physio “slab” that day, I made the tough decision to pull out of the race. Runners never make such a decision lightly, but I was feeling beaten-up and I didn’t want to jeopardize other upcoming running goals.

Filled with self-pity, I emailed the race director and asked him to give my bib to someone else. I also confirmed that no, I didn’t want any payment for it. I just hoped it would go to someone who would enjoy the event as much as I have for the past six years.

At this point, I was up to my neck in “woeful”…

…but “wonderful” soon kicked in when I got this email from the person who received my bib:

 

Hi Karen,

You don’t know me or my team, but I’m hoping you can call me at 780-XXX-XXXX so I can explain. You have made my athlete’s day let alone world! It is unfortunate that you couldn’t make it, but you have affected my athlete who has CP in a way that can’t be measured. We really wanna thank you and let you know how important this is to us. Hope to hear from you soon.

 

I rang him up and learned that Morrie is a member of KwadSquad, which is a team of runners that pushes physically-disabled individuals in specially-designed chariots over various running courses.

Our phone conversation also gave me the opportunity to tell Morrie that he was wrong about something: I do in fact know him–sort of.

Rotary Run For Life race: where I first crossed paths with Morrie and his athlete-partner

Mementos from the Rotary Run For Life: where I first crossed paths with Morrie and his athlete-partner

We ran together for a short stretch at the Rotary Run For Life–the suicide awareness and prevention fundraiser that I ran in September. In my subsequent blog post (“Run And Write For Life,” September 2015), I described the unknown KwadSquad member as a “kick-ass runner” and an “angel” given his running prowess and his commitment to offering such a memorable experience to an individual who would otherwise miss out.

I was incredibly inspired by the KwadSquad then, and am even more inspired now upon learning about Morrie’s background. At one time, he was seriously injured and wasn’t expected to live. He not only survived his injury–which makes mine feel unutterably puny by comparison–but his commitment to the KwadSquad and to its wheelchair athletes represents his way of giving back.

KwadSquad: kick-ass runners/angels

KwadSquad: kick-ass runners/angels

So after feeling sorry for myself for 24 hours, I’m done.

I’m not gonna lie–I’d still love to be racing on Sunday. But I couldn’t be happier that the race team of Morrie and Raminder, his athlete-partner with cerebral palsy, will be enjoying the gorgeous Hypo Half course in my place.

Let’s just say that my perspective has been restored. Morrie’s kind words warm my heart–something that can’t be measured in my world either.

 

Special thanks to:

Justin Ng, Race Director of the Edmonton Hypothermic Half Marathon, for finding the substitute running team of my dreams; 

Miles Morgan, Physiotherapist/wielder of many IMS needles who “gets” people like me who need to run;

Morrie and Raminder of the KwadSquad, who inspire me while carrying a piece of my heart in their race-day chariot. SO. MUCH. RESPECT.