Causeway is a not-for-profit agency that helps people with mental illness and other challenges find meaning, rewarding work and live more independently. By helping everyone overcome their challenges and reach their full potential, they are helping to establish stronger and more inclusive communities. This is a story about one of Causeway’s most seasoned Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend participants, Peggy. This year, at age 71, she will be participating in the Ottawa 5K presented by ASICS Runkeeper along with a group of folks from Causeway called the Wellness Warriors.
Crossing the finish line is made all the sweeter when you work as hard as Peggy does.
Day in and day out, Peggy is seen working out alongside her fellow Wellness Warriors, a term coined to self-describe Causeway participants who train here in the Sue Van Iterson Wellness Centre. The Centre, named after a beloved former board member and donor, is much more than just a gym. It is an inclusive and judgement-free space, all about building self-confidence, routine, and healthy habits that support the people Causeway works with through their employment transition and beyond. The program is available at no cost and includes an on-site gym with certified personal trainers, who are experienced in developing fitness programs for people of all abilities.
The Wellness Centre is regularly one of the most in-demand services at Causeway, and it relies on donations to operate.
At 71, Peggy is one of the most seasoned Wellness Warriors, and she has participated in every race the Wellness Warriors have done dating back to Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend in 2011. She is now preparing for the Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend 5km race on May 27, 2023.
“Race Weekend is so important for [the Wellness Warriors’] self confidence and just proving to themselves that they can actually complete a goal that they put their minds to,” Causeway’s Wellness Coordinator, Christopher Kelly, explained.
Having one-on-one support from certified personal trainers, Christopher and Larry, is key to the Wellness Warriors’ success. “That’s important, because there’s some things I can’t do on my own,” Peggy said.
Christopher has been Peggy’s go-to wellness guide for over a decade, and has supported her during every race she has done. “Peggy is determined. She never gives up, she’ll just keep going. She’s like the little Energizer Bunny that could,” described Christopher with a chuckle.
For people in any of Causeway’s employment programs, attending the Wellness Centre is a natural companion to the job search. “It helps give them the confidence that if they put their mind to it, they can actually do the jobs that they’re applying for, and that they don’t have to be afraid,” said Christopher.
For her and many other Wellness Warriors, there’s also a social aspect to coming to the gym. “I just say hello to anyone,” Peggy remarked. She may be underestimating the impact that “hello” and her general presence has on those around her.
Christopher described the role Peggy plays among the other Wellness Warriors. “When we’re walking with her, she’s an inspiration to other people. Just the things that she talks about and her dedication here. Nothing, nothing fazes her and she just really gives other people encouragement as we’re all doing Race Weekend.”
When Peggy first came to Causeway, she was unemployed and experiencing significant challenges with her housing situation, having moved 3 times within a short period. She was forced to move out of one place because of a bed bug issue, and temporarily moved into a hotel. All of her belongings had to be thrown away, and she only had torn clothing to wear that she referred to as “pretty rags.”
Peggy helped out at the hotel during her two month stay before finding more permanent housing. “It’s not quite the rags to riches story,” she laughed, “but it’s the rags to housing that I could afford.’ I look at it as survival.”
Coming to Causeway has empowered Peggy to secure a variety of different jobs and volunteer roles in retail and community services over the years, as she sought advice on her resume and practiced interview skills.
Searching for work can sometimes be an overwhelming prospect, especially if you are having challenges with your mental health. “Causeway can kind of take you through baby steps, one thing at a time,” Peggy described of her own experience. “And through the baby steps you learn through your experience.”
Throughout her journey here, physical wellbeing has been a priority. Peggy experienced thrombosis in her leg for which she needed two operations, and now uses a cane, at times, to assist her walking.
“I had to learn how to walk again. I went to Causeway to strengthen my legs,” said Peggy. “It’s like therapy to me.”
Peggy is powering forward into her future with open eyes. “I’m 71. What happens to me when I hit 80? I’ve tried to connect with my church to do knitting, and try to continue on as much as I can here [at Causeway]. Things may change, but I’ll try to continue on as much as I can, as long as I can. It doesn’t matter how old or young you are, as long as you continue on, to a degree, continue on if you can, for as long as you can.”
“I tend to be the strong one,” Peggy said, “but I have my ups and downs. I say to myself: green grass, blue water. And I go into that meditation just for a few minutes. And then it’s ‘ok let’s go!’”
Peggy is now turning her attention to the Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend 5km race on May 27 th . After a 3-year pandemic hiatus, she is committed to completing the 5km and to raising funds for Causeway. Her smiling face greets each person she asks to sponsor her efforts. She hopes you will consider sponsoring her!
In the months leading up to the Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend, “Peggy will be in here like clockwork every single week,” said Christopher with a broad smile. “She’s determined to finish [the 5km] and make sure that she’s in good condition for the race.”
Peggy’s calm determination is a source of strength. “Never give up,” she urges us. “Keep on moving. Keep on moving forward. Keep your head up. Hold on tight to your dreams. Never give up. Hold on tight and follow your dreams.”
You can show your support by making a donation to Causeway here.