By: Emily Setlack
I ran on the treadmill today; I felt so effortless and strong--my feet moved beneath me and my mind wandered. As I looked in the mirror, my mind fluttered back to "the old me", I felt a rush of empowerment as I thought back to the struggles I have overcome upon arriving in Cold Lake, Alberta three years ago. For those unfamiliar with Cold Lake, it is a small rural town situated 300 kilometres northeast of Edmonton. It's in the middle of nowhere and it's cold most of the year.
I am a military spouse; it's tough. Often times I feel like my career and life take a backseat while I follow my husband across the country. I struggle to land on my feet when we move to a new town and am slow to adapt. I am not good at change and don't do well when I am away from my family. When we first moved here, I was sad. I remember walking home from the gym bundled in my warm jacket; tears streamed down my cheeks. It was going to be impossible to live here; the closest city is 3.5 hours away. I didn't connect with the small rural town and I missed Kingston. I missed my sisters, parents, nephews, niece and training group. How on earth would I train here? How can I spend the next four years here? It's cold for most of the year and isolating. I felt like I was living on the moon and I not only didn't like it--I despised it.
Then my husband, Matt and I met the Maleys; Joel, Claudia, Clara, Ruth and James. They opened their arms and took us under their wing when we first arrived in Cold Lake. Joel Maley not only competes in IronMan races, he is one of the best. Joel inspired me; he did all of his training on a rickety old treadmill in a cramped basement. He explained that Cold Lake was his secret weapon, it made him stronger mentally and gave him an advantage in races. No distractions, no restaurants (unless you count A&W, Boston Pizza and Dairy Queen)to go to, no theatres, no starbucks-- but lots of time to train. I remember leaving their home feeling a new sense of motivation, what he said that day stuck with me and I often think back to "living in Cold Lake is a secret weapon". If Joel can do it-- If he can train for an ironman in Cold Lake, so can I. The Maleys adopted me into their family like a temporary Auntie to their kids. They are one the nicest families I have ever met and I am so grateful for their kindness. They have since been posted out of Cold Lake but the cool thing about the military is that you always see people again...goodbye is never really goodbye!
From that point on I put my head down and worked hard. I enjoyed the process of getting out the door everyday and I slowly stopped using where I lived as an obstacle. I learned that living here is only obstacle if I can't find my way around it. Somedays I felt like I was in a vortex patiently weaving my way around road blocks. It can feel impossible but I am persistent and determined to use my obstacle to make me stronger. Running on the roads here is not enjoyable, it's borderline dangerous as big oil trucks practically run you off the road. I learned to love trails; something the "old me" would have steered clear from as I thought it was too slow and I was wasting an effort running slow on the trail. I've learned to love the process of letting my mind wander on the skidoo and ATV trails, connecting with nature. The trails are beautiful in Cold Lake, there are hundreds of kilometres of ATV trails that weave around the town. It's empowering to run on the trail alone, to watch and feel the sun break through the leaves as my feet sink into mud and sand hearing nothing but the sound my body makes as it shifts and turns it's way through the meandering trail. Until an F18 roars above me, those jets are LOUD!
I felt a rush of emotion at the start line of each and every race last year, I did it. I made it to the start line, I made my way around obstacles and turned them into my secret weapon. My heart swelled and I felt proud to be on the start line. The new me feels like a pit bull at the start line of races. I have worked too hard to back down at any point in a race, I am here to fight for every fraction of a second and I am not willing to back to down to anyone; but most importantly myself. I deserve to be my best, and give it everything I've got.. l found a way around the obstacle and have run some of the best times over 10km to half-marathon in my entire life. Upon arriving in Cold Lake, I never imagined it would be possible. That's why I smile at the end of every race. I am grateful for the community of runners that support one another. I am grateful for the volunteers, race organizers and coaches who make the sport possible (especially my coach- Matt Clout who volunteers his time, energy and knowledge to help me). Above all, I am thankful I can run, the finish line marks the feeling of everything summed up in a fraction of second; two hour runs in -20C, lonely km repeats on the track, 30km on a treadmill ... the list could go on forever.
We all have obstacles, they are different for everyone. Find a way around them and you will be stronger than you ever imagined. Believe in yourself and be persistent.