The understanding I got from my doctors was that it was a freak occurrence. There was no explanation — I didn’t have any risk factors other than being diabetic — I don’t know if there’s a relationship between the two things.
I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes back in 2015.
I was 280 lbs then. I’d been out of shape for a bit, but I got inspired by a friend whose husband had recently died of melanoma. His goal had been to run ten 5Ks the year after his diagnosis while he was terminally ill, and he did it. It made me realize that dealing with a diabetes diagnosis wasn’t that hard, so I started pushing myself. I started treadmill running. When the weather warmed up, I started parking my car further away and jogging — I wasn’t even tracking. I’d go home and jump on Google Maps, see how much distance I did.
Then the Bluenose came up, and I was like, OK — I should try to do a 5K. I don’t even think I’d run a 5K at that point, but I thought signing up would be a way to push myself. I ran it.
Later that year, my parents spotted an article in the paper about the North End Runners, North Brewing and Little Beast. They were like “oh have you heard of this group of runners? Sounds like something you might like…” So I went to the Little Beast launch, and after that I went nonstop for the better part of a year. I didn’t even think running was a winter sport before that, like “uh, you guys run in winter?” But I was hooked. Running with the crew just became my motivation. I ended up capping that first year off with a half marathon at Shubie.
But I was pretty tired after I ran my first full marathon. This was last year. I was exhausted after. I was exhausted all summer. I thought it was burnout, but I was sick after any running, even after doing a 6K crew run. I felt like I might throw up.
It turns out the tumour had shown up in May, a week before the marathon, but I didn’t know it.
I’d gone to the hospital with lower abdominal pain. They CT-scanned me, they were all prepped to deal with appendicitis, but that wasn’t it. I said, “can I run next week?” They told me I was good to run — but they didn’t tell me about the small 1 centimeter bump on my kidney.
My doctor ordered an ultrasound when I followed up. I kind of had a feeling something was up, because the girl doing the ultrasound, she kept going over it. I was reading her facial expressions and I was like “yeah something’s wrong.”
I was about to head to Mexico for a wedding when they gave me a call and said they needed to see me, so I headed in the night before flying out, and my Doctor said, “I think you have cancer… but don’t worry, just go get drunk.” Of course I still went to Mexico. The first Urologist I was referred to disagreed with my Doctor. He didn’t think it was cancer. He said not to worry, but decided to check anyway with another CT scan.
I got a call the week before Christmas, and the Urologist said, “yeah I think it is cancer.”
At that point they did a quick biopsy to confirm, and they called me up and said ”we’re going to remove it, we need to remove it soon” — it had grown another centimeter.
The worst of it was feeling like I had a ticking time bomb inside me. Especially after I’d lived my healthiest year ever.
They told me I shouldn’t be too symptomatic while I waited for surgery, but I was fatigued and I had pain on my side where they eventually operated. I was scared. I was tired and in pain anytime I did anything physically-exertive. I was feeling sick, I didn’t want to do anything. I thought it must be worst-case scenario. They had gotten it wrong before, so I kept having this ominous feeling that it could get worse, that it might be worse than they think.
When you focus on things that aren’t going well for you, you start to let a little bit of depression set in. I started having a lot more down days than up days. I missed everything that kept me running even during the coldest and hottest days; the social atmosphere, the positive vibes, never ever feeling like I can’t do something when I was running with the crew, how supportive everyone is, no one is a naysayer, that everyone cheers you on.
They ended up removing half my rib. My 11th rib is gone. When I woke up I was in pain obviously, but I felt… really good. After surgery so many people dropped by. I can’t describe how that feels. People I hadn’t seen for a few years, shooting me messages, and some of the crew showing up the day after. I got up and started walking down the halls. No one even told me I could, but I got up and started walking. I was just ready to keep moving.
About 4 weeks after the surgery, this is a couple of weeks ago, my energy came back. And I realized, OK, the pain from the incision is gone, there’s no throbbing in my side anymore — yeah, I feel like they got it.
All last summer, all last year, I haven’t felt this kind of energy. I feel good.
So this week I’m going to run the Bluenose 5K.
It was my first race. It was also the start of a bunch of amazing things that happened in my life — meeting the crew, doing things I’d never done before — it led to me being healthier. If I wasn’t training for a full marathon last year, I wouldn’t have been as health-focused, I wouldn’t have gone to the hospital worried about abdominal pain. It might have gone unchecked. They told me people don’t catch things this early. If I was living an unhealthy lifestyle, I might’ve thought it was nothing.
I feel like I have a new chance. I can’t think of a better way to kick off the start of something and to push myself all over again.
There’s a poem a friend sent me when I was going through a difficult time. it's called "Welcome to Holland." It’s by a woman who’d given birth to a child with developmental issues. She writes about the experience like envisioning a trip to Italy - when you’re in labour you’re boarding a plane, then you’re landing, and as you’re delivering - the pilot suddenly announces, ‘Welcome to Holland’.
So after imagining this perfect trip to Italy, you land somewhere else.
But If you spend your whole time in Holland thinking about how the pasta would have tasted, or how the wine would have tasted, you’ll miss it. You’ll miss all the beauty, and the chocolate, and the wooden shoes and the tulips.
It’s super cheesy, but it’s the truth - as hard or as shitty as life may seem sometimes, there’s daily gratitude in everything. Running is part of that for me. Every step I take - I have a body that can run and the freedom in my life to do it.
I’ve been running since I was quite young. It was something I always loved, I don’t know why - growing up in a small place, there weren’t a lot of runners my age.
My first race ever, I was in junior high, I remember wearing a Bart Simpson tee-shirt. I can still feel the exhilaration of it - running in the fall across country, with crunching leaves, the smell of the woods. Every time I experience those sights and smells and sounds again I get that little gurgle in my stomach, the kind like right before a race - I still feel that first race excitement.
Running has always been mentally grounding for me, something I connect with on a spiritual and mental level. I’ve always felt drawn to it. Even my mom who doesn’t really ‘get’ running will say - if I’m going through something, ‘go put on your shoes, you know what you need to do.’
I decided to start training for triathlons in 2013. I did a lot of running in university and I just felt like I wanted to do more - I think I had exhausted my run goals and I wanted to challenge myself. I didn’t want to ever feel limited by what my body can do, and that’s always been my drive to exercise. You go to the gym and there’s so much body image-oriented thinking, which I’ve never bought into. I want to feel strong. Whatever I want my body to do - if I want to climb Everest next year - I want to feel like I’m able to train and do it.
That first triathlon, I was smiling the whole time. My cheeks were hurting. I was just like ‘OH MY GOD, this is so fun.’ The bike - you’re just going so fast. And I loved the feeling of running after the bike too, your legs are so weird and jello-y. My first year I did all Olympic distance races. The second, I did my first half iron man. Then I got pregnant. I still trained. When I couldn’t reach the biathlon bars, I went to spin class. Eventually my stomach got too big to reach those bars. Wearing my swimsuit got more and more scandalous as it stretched. But I was on my spin bike until 37 weeks.
I was planning to save my full Ironman for my midlife crisis, but I think that already happened. For about a year and a half or more I was treading water because I had to. It was pure survival. I was at a point where I had to figure life out again.
I’m a single mom, and after I moved my son and I from out west, I was working full time. It was stressful. We got through the move and landed on our feet, and I decided I needed to get back to triathloning. We didn’t have a lot of money to tie things together, but I found a little treadmill on Kijiji and set up my trainer in the basement. I wanted to do another half Ironman. I’d get up at 3 or 5am in the morning, or I’d be exercising until midnight or 1am after I got him to sleep - I was burning the candle at both ends. Two nights a week I got a babysitter and I’d go swim for an hour. I was only taking two hours a week for myself, but I felt TERRIBLY guilty about it - and that parental guilt is so awful. I had a lot of guilt. People said to me, ‘why don’t you do a smaller distance, do a sprint distance, you’re a mom…’ I think from their perspective it was about trying to help me find balance, but it was important for me to show my son it’s valuable. Taking time out is really important - the same with me working. I feel so strongly he needs to know that balance, and the importance of personal wellness and self-love, because it’s made me a better parent I think.
I still get up in the mornings to do my workouts before he wakes up. I’ve thankfully never had to spend too much time away from him to train - even when I go for 100K rides, I’ll get up at 3am to get it in, so I don’t have to spend too much time away. I don’t think being a parent has changed why I run, but it’s definitely made me more purposeful.
My one year runner-versary with the North End Runners is coming up. Even though I still feel new to the crew, there’s a family orientation that feels really embracing and supportive, in particular being a single mom who did all my exercise in the basement by myself. I’m so happy to be running outside with other people. I think the most important parts for me (and my run story and my parenting story) is just that - the gratitude. And of course equity, the camaraderie of women, and female runners supporting each other.
My son admires strong women, his favourite superhero is Wonder Woman. He thinks I’m her sometimes.
One of his favourite books to read before he goes to bed every night is about Bobbi Gibb, the first woman to run Boston. When they get to the part where she runs by Wellesley College he’s the first one who hops up with, ‘go girl go! you’re my hero!’ It’s amazing.
But it can still seem really, really overwhelming sometimes - and we’re not superheroes.
Don’t put too many expectations on yourself to be everything because you can’t. You’re going to suck at some things, and be good at others. Some days will be better than others. Ultimately, our kids have to see us feeling fulfilled. It’s important for them to see you being you, for them to learn that’s not something you can compromise - you can’t compromise who you are and what makes you happy, and I think that’s a valuable lesson. Drop the guilt. Allow yourself the guilt-free moments that give you joy. We all have these unfillable voids in us we need to fill with the good stuff - to be fulfilled, to be better parents.
It’s been a struggle, but everyday I find something to be grateful for and start there. When I can get up in the morning and actually run outside, I’m just so grateful, it’s never lost on me. The hardest part of running is getting your laces tied and getting out the door. Once you’re doing it - that’s it. Drop your judgement of yourself - I’m too slow, I’m too fast, I’m too whatever - get all that inner dialogue out of your head and remember why you want to do it. You’re doing it for yourself, for joy, to get all that negative chatter out of your mind.
Take a deep breath, put your shoes on and ‘welcome yourself to Holland’.
Leah is a Mom (and superwoman), and a sponsored triathlete on the Tri It Multisport team.
"When I was younger I was diagnosed with asthma. It wasn’t a big surprise. I’d be out of breath and wheezing with any physical activity. Sports really reduced my symptoms. Doctors advised me not to trigger it – but I can confidently say running cured me. By the time I was 16, I had no asthma whatsoever, no sign of it – and I know it was because of running.
I tried a lot of different sports, but they were all related to running, so I stuck with the running part. I started really young. I remember my Dad (he’s a runner) going for his runs. I watched him run his first race in Quebec. I was only 4, but I remember the medal. It piqued my interest.
Running is my favourite drug now. I love the endorphin boost. I definitely get the runner’s high – the good feeling is the reason it stuck. I try to run as much as I can even if I’m busy. Sometimes I have to force myself a little bit, especially in winter, but then I feel good after – sometimes those times when you have to force yourself are the best runs you have.
This summer I did the Rainbow race with my Mom. It was my first race with her. It was a beautiful moment. She spent pride week with me, just accepting everything about it. We ran together, people were cheering at us the whole way. The fact that my Mom was there – I didn’t want it to be over, I was even more proud. My Mom had a blast, there’s a picture of us, you can see her smiling ear to ear. It’s one of the highlights of my whole running life.
I consider myself an LGBTQ+ activist, and I'm involved in the community. I consider myself lucky after watching my friends around me – it can be a totally different story – not just from their communities but even from their parents. Not everyone is totally accepting.
I’m very active with Halifax Pride, so the fact that the Rainbow race was organized by NER meant a lot. Two different groups came together for one purpose – running during pride – it really showed me how everyone in the crew is so diverse and open.
There are so many beautiful souls to meet at NER. It’s really a community where you can make connections. The people I’ve met – it’s crazy, I was not expecting it. People have become friends I see outside of running. The crew is for everyone. Everyone should try it once.
We’re so different and diverse, but we run together, that’s what unites us."
Follow Daryl's passion for running and his wanderlust for life @durrellross