I was surprised that I had never heard about this disease before. It was the summer of 2010, when my dad slowly started showing symptoms of ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. It is a degenerative neurological illness that deteriorates the motor neurons, ultimately leading to complete paralysis. It was a shock to our family to receive the news of the diagnosis a couple years later as the ALS progressed. This spring we are coming together for the ALS WALK in Ottawa to raise awareness neurological disease.
“Make Moments Matter” is the slogan for the walk this year. And interestingly enough, this hits home so much further than you’d initially think. The small daily things I took for granted were enormously amplified going on this journey with my dad as he gradually lost the ability to do the simple things like speaking, walking, and lifting an arm. I became acutely aware of, and forever in tune with a constant reminder of gratitude towards being able to pursue my goals, and to take the joys from the small things in my daily grind.
I am a long track speed skater on the Canadian National Development team aspiring to be one of the best world class athletes in the world, and place my two feet in Sochi Russia for the 2014 Winter Olympics in February. I have overcome so many obstacles within myself, to be able to grow as a person and an athlete to be where I am today. So much of that journey of cultivating my self-awareness as a person, goes back to my father (Popa Joe), and back to what he taught me growing up, as well as what he continually teaches me today as he fights against ALS.
“I have found so much growth from my realization of simply being grateful to BE ABLE to get up in the morning and pursue what is important to me.”
I am grateful to have the opportunity to aspire to my full potential. Extracting a pure joy from the healthy and active lifestyle I’ve committed to as a high performance athlete, is one of the most fulfilling things. Likewise, I have found so much growth from my realization of simply being grateful to BE ABLE to get up in the morning and pursue what is important to me. To challenge myself to run faster, be stronger, bike harder – I have essentially embodied the qualities and values that my Dad has taught me as a person into my daily approach to training, school, work, family and friends. I’ve taken what has happened to our family as an initiative for me to reach out to others.
This journey of ALS and the degeneration of mobility that my dad has endured, allowed me to come to many realizations. Firstly, I have learned to set aside all excuses, limits and boundaries I had placed on myself. My father has so many physical boundaries he did not place on himself, and cannot remove- so for my dad – I make sure I don’t place any form of limitation upon myself. This has allowed me to be ‘real’ about what I need to change about myself for speed skating, whether it be physically, mentally, or technically. It’s takes a lot of courage to be ‘real’ about yourself, and face your weaknesses; and to ultimately develop the perspective you need to see about what you need to change about yourself.
Secondly, I have taken the opportunity. It’s all about the now and making this moment matter. I have taken the initiative to actively be the person I want to become. I am no longer wishing, or would-having or should-having about things I could have done. In contrast I have decided to take the initiative on the now. Embodying the person you want to become, will allow you to continuously and slowing-but-surely guarantee that desired outcome. Whoever that ideal person of yourself may be, you must be it in its entirety: talk, feel, think, act, eat, and interact like the person you want to become.
Something so empowering I have learned from the unspeakably difficult circumstances ALS has brought to our family is to cast away the maybes, and the ‘another day’. Make moments matter. Make your thoughts matter and influence you in a positive manner. I shifted gears from wanting to be, wishing to be, continually doubting myself – to a gear where I am doing, acting, believing. Shift into actively being. Be the person you want to become.
The ALS Walk in Ottawa is this Saturday Jun 15, 2013 10:00 AM, and I encourage you to spread the awareness of ALS by participating in the walk, or sharing this link on your social media. The greatest compliment to me would be your effort to spread the word about ALS, and support the case to find a cure and treatment.