Runner of the Month – Liz Laurin
On May 25th, 2019, around the 29 minute mark, Liz Laurin moved in on the finish line for the Ottawa 2K road race at Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend.
Up until that moment, that very last metre, she was a living portrait of sunniness and joy during the race: bright rainbow hair, rocking a cane infused with peacock feathers and flashy reflective multicoloured stickers, waving to the spectators, laughing, beaming with her friends. Those last steps though? She was overcome with tears.
Afterall, at the age of 34, this was her finish line moment. Her first road race. Her first medal. Ever.
Living with chronic pain
If you’re able bodied, you may take some things for granted, like how much effort it takes to walk when you live with Fibromyalgia, as Liz does.
All her life, Liz experienced back and hip problems that went undiagnosed, only to be later misdiagnosed as Rheumatoid Arthritis. Even worse, Liz went years unable to get the care she needed, and was left feeling ignored by medical professionals. The back and forth, and the feeling of invalidation while living with pain is commonly referenced as one of the most difficult aspects of living with a chronic illness by diagnosed patients.
“Fibro is frustrating because it’s a sort of catch all for so many different experiences,” she explains. “There’s also not a lot of treatment options, outside of making sure you can be as healthy as you can be. I have an AMAZING medical team at the Primrose Family Medicine Centre/Bruyere who very much believe that being healthy involves all parts of our lives.”
For Liz, that means a combination of medication, healthy eating, devotion to regular sleep, and working on anxiety and stress. “I am feeling very good lately. Many days I still use a cane, but that’s just part of a pain disorder!”
The cane was a concession she never wanted to make, because most of all she wanted to avoid being treated differently after her diagnosis. Liz resisted using her personality-infused cane, now a calling card, for a long time out of what she describes as “pure shame”.
“I hated using a cane, because of the stares, the looks, the comments from strangers – but even more hurtful, from friends and family as well,” she confides. “It took a long time for me to use one, to admit that I needed it…” She stops, and then exclaims, “But let me be the first to tell you, that was me being ridiculous! Would we make comments to someone who needed insulin shots? Or an amputee who needed a wheelchair?”
Her “aha” moment came when she realized her illness wasn’t a punishment. “It’s not happening to you because of something you did,” she asserts. “Your illness doesn’t care, so do what you need to do to make your life better. Using a mobility aid doesn’t mean you have to use it forever… And even if it does, rock that cane, that wheelchair, those crutches.”
Getting to the start line
If you had asked Liz in 2018 (when she first started walking with an aid) if she would be interested in doing a road race, she probably would have looked at you like you were wearing a monkey on your head.
“All of the media around marathons and races is healthy, thin, able bodied people,” says Liz about why she was hesitant to participate. “It was definitely not a place I could see myself being accepted, or welcome. I was unfairly judging the running community in many of the same ways I felt people were judging me.”
Liz started considering the Ottawa 2K after her two friends began making plans to walk the route themselves. It was the year her illness came out in full force, and she was in agony. She had lost a lot of control of her body, and while her job requires her to do a lot of walking and standing, she was forced to spend a lot of time sitting, unable to hold a book or use a phone or computer for days at a time.
“I felt like if I could at least do this one thing, if I could prove to myself that I could do it, maybe it would be true? I knew I didn’t want my disability to define me,“ she says.
The finish line experience
When she made it to the finish line, after walking the 2K briskly, Liz’s tears weren’t simply over the accomplishment, she had some other feelings to work out, too.
“When I got to the end, my friends were cheering and screaming, but I was pretty embarrassed. And shy… And anxious…” she sighs. “I still felt like it wasn’t something I should be proud of, that this was the ‘easy’ race, that this 2K was somewhere that I didn’t belong.”
Later that night, Liz went home with all of that self-shame still percolating in her chest, holding her back from feeling good about the day. That’s when she decided to look at some of the posts on Instagram, where people had been tagging @OttawaMarathon, or #runottawa2019. What she saw blew her mind.
A runner on Instagram, @jillamama posted about her time at the Ottawa 2K. As it turns out, she had noticed Liz’s big finish, too.
“We all went downtown for the 2km run at Ottawa Race Weekend today and as usual, I wondered why in the &$%# I decided to do this. Or rather, why I decided to make my family do it. Definitely uttered the phrase “never again” a couple of times.
When we finally made it to the finish, I looked behind me and saw a woman finish with tears running down her cheeks. Her friend who had been walking with her exclaimed “You did it! You made it!” So, of course I cried too.
All I could think was “You forget. You really forget where you were once and where so many people still are and that it really does not matter what you’re doing but just that you’re here doing it.”
Thank you, 2km lady. I should have hugged you, but I had to chase down my son who was taking a shower in Nuun at one of the water stations.
I feel good, I feel happy, I feel lucky.”
You could’ve knocked Liz over with a feather!
“Here was this ‘perfect’ runner. She was athletic, she had the gear, she had the jogging stroller, she was PREPARED. And I inspired HER! That broke my brain, honestly,” Liz laughs. The two exchanged messages online, and finally all the good feelings Liz had been denying herself that day came flooding in.
“I found out she was exhausted. Her kids were grumpy, she was pregnant, and frustrated in general,” Liz recalls. “She was feeling just as nervous and anxious as I was. And it made me feel so… Seen.”
Looking to Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend 2K 2020
You can expect to see Liz once again in the corral for the Ottawa 2K at the 2020 Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend – and this time it’ll be a little different.
“Last year was the first time that I really knew that my life wasn’t over, that I could still do things, and be a person, and have hobbies, and be more than my illness,” she admits. Now, she’s feeling more confident, and much more open about her struggles… and taking less crap about it, too.
“I don’t want anyone to pretend my disability doesn’t exist. It’s important, it’s a part of me,” she asserts. “What I want is for people to realize that I am MORE than my disability. I want to see others with mobility aids at marathons, at drag shows, at bars, going to concerts. Disabled people are not a monolith, we are not “just” our disability.”
Liz believes one of her biggest takeaways from her first race was realizing that everyone is there for different reasons, and that every single one of them is valid.
“I will tell you that you will feel welcomed, cared for, and loved. You will feel proud of yourself.” She pauses thoughtfully before adding, “Whenever I’m having a bad pain day, when I have a hard time getting out of bed, when I feel overwhelmed by life – I put that medal on. It reminds me that I did that, that I can do things. I might not be able to today, I might not be able to next week, but I can still do it, I did, and I will again.”
That’s the kind of finish line feeling everyone deserves.
Follow Liz on Instagram @LizLaurin where she posts about books, chronic illness, and her new & improved life.