As a running instructor for the Running Room and Nike, I have taught numerous beginner clinics, but none have touched my heart and soul more than the Breast Cancer Survivor Clinics. As we all go on our weekly long runs, and pass runners on Toronto’s numerous paths, we assume that everyone who is running must be healthy.
This is not always so.
I have been privileged to teach three Breast Cancer Survivor Clinics on behalf of the Running Room, which are tailored to women who have had cancer, although I have not had cancer myself. As with any running clinic, we embark on a nine-week journey to increase their fitness level; this is a wellness clinic for thrivers. As a group they learn about fitness, but most of all, they build self-esteem and a network of fast friends. Cancer survivors share a powerful bond, which coupled with a common goal of the 5K Run for the Cure makes for a magical experience.
The students at these courses are as diverse as you can imagine — ranging from age 30 to 70. Some have only recently completed treatments, while others have been in remission for over a decade. These ladies bravely face a wide array of health challenges, ranging from depleted energy, to depression, to lymphedema, to weight management. While some cancer patients suffer from weight loss due to drug therapies and treatments, a great number experience weight gain.
The sessions begin like most other clinics, with a little lecture on a wellness topic followed by a group run/walk. The lectures focus on topics ranging from nutrition, speed walking and injury prevention, to oncology-related topics such as cancer support resources and the effect of lymphodema on exercise. These clinics are particularly individualized, with some students walking the entire nine weeks, while others take on the traditional run/walk format. Everyone is welcome to proceed at their own pace, and each and every lady’s accomplishments are applauded, whether they manage to walk five blocks or run five kilometres.
While some instructors enjoy teaching marathoners who are striving to qualify for the Boston Marathon, I love teaching cancer patients who are brave enough to take that first step out the door. My personal philosophy is that teaching running and walking clinics is an honor. I have never met a student who didn’t teach me more than I taught them. It takes a deep inner strength to combat cancer, and when I ask my students whether they are nervous about entering their first race, they always reply, “How hard could it be after chemo?” My role as an instructor is to lead, encourage, inform, listen, smile, and inspire, but frankly it’s my students who do that for me every day.
As you head out the door this week for your long run, wondering whether you can manage that nagging hamstring, and whether you have brought enough Gatorade with you, just think — how would I feel if I were worrying about my next round of chemotherapy instead? Embrace each and every run as a blessing. Wave to every child you see in a stroller. Smile at everyone you pass, you never know what they are going through.
Claire Colle has completed four marathons and 12 half-marathons in her running career. She has been a running instructor with the Running Room since 2005, coaching Learn to Run, 5k and Breast Cancer Survivor clinics. She was the instructor for the 2009 Nike 10k Cancer Survivor Walking Clinic and teaches group cycling classes four-times a week at GoodLife Fitness Clubs. She has her RPM Les Mills certification for cycling, Schwinn cycling instructor and Can-fit-pro certification. By day, Claire is a Marketing Manager at IBM and a mother of two teenage sons.