Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A Finn-tastic Adventure Challenge

by Doreen Lang

“Run, Jump, Bounce, Dance, Sing, Smile, Love.”

-       Team Finn Mantra

The story of my participation in this year’s IF Canuck Place Adventure Challenge begins with the story of Finn Sullivan.  Finn- twin brother of Baird, little brother to Sarah, and son to Pat and Samantha.   To talk about Finn is to talk about running, jumping, bouncing, dancing, singing, smiling and loving.  To talk about Finn is to also talk about getting cancer at 18 months, of enduring countless rounds of treatment, of hospital stays and a colostomy.  To talk about Finn is to remember a hero who died at age 3.  An angel who left this world in the presence and love of his family; softly, quietly and infinitely sadly, at Canuck Place.

“The obstacle is the path.”

-       Zen saying

This is actually my second Adventure Challenge.  When I first signed up to do the challenge last year, I did not know how to ride a bike.  Really had no clue. I vividly remember the training session last July when my trainer Cory said, “Okay, today, you’re riding a bike.”  Those who know IF know that there is no “out” in such a situation. So, I learned how to balance and get that first pedal stroke going.  From that day on, I attended all the event training sessions and probably walked more than half the bike course.  At that time, Finn’s health and condition were not getting better and hospital stays were more frequent.  I decided then that I would dedicate my participation in the Challenge, to Finn. 

“Finnspiration” was born and I was able to complete the challenge with the support of my amazing team. It will always mean a lot to me that I was able to share with our friends, the Sullivans, the stories and pictures from the event before Finn died in October 2008.

“And what will I be able to do tomorrow that I cannot yet do today?”

-       Elizabeth Gilbert

Coming on the heels of a successful Team Finn Ride to Conquer Cancer – Vancouver to Seattle, I decided that I would like to do the Adventure Challenge again this year.  This year, I wanted to have a team that would honour the memory of Finn.  Teammates, Ashley, Shaughn and Paula were enthusiastic from the start to be “Team Finn-tastic!”

The training sessions were again wonderful.  Only this time, something different happened.  I was not so focused on my own fear and apprehension.  Each person I met gave me an opportunity to share about Finn and why I was doing the challenge.  With each successive bike ride, I got more comfortable.  Each outing meant a few less bruises, a couple less scrapes, a touch less blood lost.  It got to the point where my husband would say to me before I left the house, “Don’t get too bloody!” and I’d go, “Okay!”

The technical tips I received from the trainers and John Henry guides were invaluable!  I only had a year’s worth of riding to go by, so I could always tell when I was making real progress.  A highlight came when I was able to do a spectacular roll-out from a fall and emerged only mildly scraped.  And finally, during my last training session, I managed to complete the ride without a single fall!

The kayaking was not so much a concern; although I still couldn’t steer straight.  The trail run was going to be a walk-run due to chronic heel, knee and SI joint concerns.

“Live in the Moment.”

I wear a pendant with the words, “Courage sans peur” (Courage without fear) whenever I do events.  I wore it the morning of the Adventure Challenge.  Only this time, I didn’t seem to have to draw on it as I normally do.  I thought of Finn and his family.  I thought of how at the end of his life, they were “given the month of August.”  A month in which to “run, jump, bounce, dance, sing, smile and love” enough for a lifetime.  Memories captured through a multitude of moments.

As I awoke that Saturday morning, I took in every detail.  I marveled at the beautiful day as I headed towards Deep Cove.  Seeing the whole team in pink “Finn-tastic” shirts simply warmed my heart!

A difference this year was the three heats for the short course.  The medium course started at 9am and we were next at 10:30.  I really appreciated this as it allowed for more room on the course as well as the opportunity to encounter other participants as they were headed in either direction of us.

As Team Finn-tastic headed towards the kayaks, we laughed and shared our excitement.  There was also a lot of, “Don’t worry about waiting for me,” “Just go and I’ll catch up,”  “I’m going to be slow,” etc.  To which every reply was a reassurance that we were a team and we’ll do it together.

The remarks at the start line by Matt Young reflected the spirit and meaning of the adventure challenge.  It was not a race; it was meant to be fun and safe for everyone.  That set a really nice tone and we started the 4k kayak amidst camaraderie and friendly competition. 

Deep Cove is so beautiful that it’s hard not to sit back and enjoy the scenery.  Thankfully, I had to focus on trying to steer straight, but again, I focused on the moment.  I paid extra attention to how the kayak reacted, how my paddle was moving through the water, but mostly, how great it felt to be doing it!

After the kayak, we headed to the transition area to get ready for the bike ride.  The first part getting out of Panorama Park towards the streets that lead up to the trail head are mostly gentle uphills.  I stayed close to one of my teammates and we gave each other encouragement as every pedal stroke brought us further onwards.  Other teams were also coming by and one team even stopped to take photos – truly, not a race, but an event to share with friends.

I was having so much fun!  I was always concerned that I would be tired from all the uphill cycling.  Yet, my new mantra, “Live in the moment,” allowed me to cover the distance one pedal stroke at a time.  It was not a matter of physical fitness, because we had all trained for the event, but rather a matter of believing that we are capable of conquering the challenge one moment at a time.  Because of that, I was also able to fully enjoy the experience.

I’d be interested to know how many times I got on and off my bike over the course of the 20k bike trail.  I was feeling tireless.  By now, my teammates had gone on ahead with the agreement that we’d all meet up at various spots along the way.  I rode every section I could and crossed almost every bridge.  On and off, on and off.  Moment by moment.  I would totally dominate in a bike walking competition.  Then we reached the speed gates before the series of steep downhills.  I don’t really care for speed.  I don’t really care for downhills.  “Courage without fear.”

Usually, I would walk about halfway then ride the rest of the way down.  This time, I considered that I only needed to focus on that moment.  I got on at the top, got going, and hey, I was riding the whole way down!  When I took my focus away from the fear of that steep hill ahead of me, and instead focused merely on the moment of getting on my bike, I was successful!

I walked all the way through the rocky switchbacks and marveled at all the riders who passed by on their bikes.  Could that be me one day?

Team Finn-tastic reunited, we headed back for the final transition.  As we were getting ready for the run, we saw more pink, then we heard pink, and we felt pink!  For you see, pink was Finn’s favourite colour and speaks to the spirit of what it means to “run, jump, bounce, dance, sing, smile and love.”  We were cheered on by Team Finn supporters.  Finn’s sister Sarah and friend Harry were doing the Kid’s course and Finn’s twin brother, Baird, was doing the under 5 Run and Stumble course.  Hugs, photos and smiles all around, we headed off for the 5k trail run up the Baden Powell.

While last year I was starting to struggle during the trail run, my team rallied behind me and kept the encouragement going all the way through.  This year, I had the opportunity to run behind one of my teammates as she set the pace and I took up the “rah, rah-ing.”  Many other racers were familiar with our team and so we were constantly met with “Go Team Finn-tastic!”  “Go Pink Team!”  Those were great moments.  

On our way back, we started to hear singing and laughter.  The Team Finn kids and their parents were completing their portion of the trail run.  We paused to say hi, admire the kids’ painted faces and cheered one another on.

As Team Finn-tastic was making its way to the finish line, we passed one more roadside cheering section complete with pink streamers, cowbells, and pink power!

Team Finn-tastic crossed the finish line together with smiles on our faces and in our hearts.  It was a day that was worthy of Finn.

When Cory asked me to write about my experience doing the Adventure Challenge and what it meant to be a part of Team Finn-tastic and Team Finn, it took me a long time to figure out what to say and how to say it.  In the end, I would have to say that this is a truly inspiring event to be a part of.  There are physical challenges to be sure, and that part I get.  We kayak, bike and run because we can.  We do it to raise money for Canuck Place.

Being a part of Team Finn-tastic allowed me the opportunity share about Finn.  It allows each of us to know that amidst illness, pain, sadness, loss and grief, there is joy, love and certainly adventure, to be found. 

Perhaps my next challenge will be to train for a race, but for now, I echo Sarah’s sentiments when she asked her mom when the next Adventure Challenge would be because, “she wished it would be tomorrow.”

“Run, jump, bounce, dance, sing, smile, love, paddle & bike!”

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