Toronto Runner: Shawn Syms

Shawn prepares for a strong finish at the Niagara Falls Marathon 10 km event on October 25, 2009.

It was one year ago that doctor’s orders found Shawn Syms signing up for a local boot camp with a friend. “At that point I’d been fairly sedentary,” recalls Shawn. “My doctor told me to get more exercise in order to keep my blood sugar and cholesterol in check.”

During his initial foray into the world of squats and drills, Shawn discovered a love/hate relationship with what he found to be the most effective part: running. “Initially, it left me huffing and panting the entire way,” says Shawn. “But I eventually discovered that the more I ran, the more I enjoyed it.”

The running he experienced in boot camp also led Shawn to discover a competitive streak that he hadn’t realized he had. He frequently found himself one of the slowest runners in his group and decided he wanted to improve. Seven months ago, he and a buddy signed up for a learn to run clinic at his local Running Room. “It really surprised me how much I enjoyed running because I’d never really liked physical exercise growing up,” Shawn admits. “From that initial clinic, I went directly into the 10K clinic and have now just started with the half-marathon clinic.”

In only seven months, Shawn has run number of races including a 10 km in his hometown of Niagara Falls, where he had a personal best of 55 minutes and 44 seconds. He also had the opportunity to run the Brooklyn Bridge while on vacation in New York City this past summer. “The Brooklyn Bridge was bustling with pedestrians, sightseers, cyclists and runners,” recalls Shawn. “The bridge was an exciting, disorienting, yet phenomenal experience.

Shawn cools down after running the Brooklyn Bridge this past summer. He often enjoys combining traveling and running. In addition to NYC, Shawn has also run in both Chicago and Tokyo.

“I enjoy running while travelling; it can provide a great perspective on an unfamiliar city. I passed the 10K mark for the first time while running in Chicago this summer and got lost while running in Tokyo where I was lucky to find a Metro station that I recognized.”

Shawn says that learning to run has been but one chapter in a long story of coming to terms with his body as someone who grew up with weight and self-esteem issues. “I love taking clinics because of the camaraderie of running in a group and the structure and discipline imposed by the schedule,” he says.

With most of the races for the year wrapped, Shawn is focused on training for the Chilly Half Marathon in Burlington next March, which he wants to complete in less than two hours. “Running has increased the scope of what I dare to accomplish, and has influenced the rest of my life — I’m now more open to saying yes to the unexpected, to being more adventurous.

“If all goes well, I plan to train for the 2010 Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon next fall. Sounds like a great way to celebrate turning 40.”

Shawn continues to go to bootcamp three days a week, while running an additional three times a week. “Between that, my day job, and my sideline career in freelance journalism, that’s about all I can fit in,” he says. Shawn even has a book review being published in the January 2010 issue of Canadian Running Magazine. To view more of shawn’s writing, visit his website at www.shawnsyms.ca.

“Running in a group is such a pleasure in and of itself. I’ve met great people — and more than a few kooky characters,” says Shawn. “And my doctor isn’t raising alarm bells about my blood sugar or cholesterol like he used to. If I’m still doing this 10 years from now, I’ll be very happy.”

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