I have never been a fan of cardio. In all my years of professional dance training, I dreaded our conditioning classes. It always felt hard, and boring, and uncomfortable. After living through an accident that shattered one of my feet, and left a small brain injury, it’s come as a great surprise to me that it is now something I love.
Before my accident I was a full time athlete. My body was a movement machine, dancing for about 6 hours a day- some times more. Dropping to the floor and then getting up milliseconds later. Moving and sweating was my life, and I loved it. I loved feeling physically powerful, and dynamic.
The summer before my final year, I was on a second floor balcony when the railing collapsed. I fell 20ft onto concrete steps. My head smashed open to the bone resulting in frontal lobe damage to my brain. I had major whiplash and tissue damage down the right side of my body, immense pain around my right hip, and multiple bone breaks in my left foot.
My immediate, and only true memory of that moment was praying I would still be able to move.
When I first started walking again I had been in a wheelchair for a couple of months, and was working with muscle mass that had deteriorated down to almost nothing. It was really hard for me to look at my legs, and see that one was muscular and strong, while the other had completely atrophied.
I was forced to be kind, and humble to my body. I was grateful for the days when I didn't feel like I had been hit by a truck. I was grateful for small, slow movement, and the ability to walk to the bathroom without assistance.
One year, and two surgeries later I was able to walk around mostly comfortably without any assistance. I refused to lean in to the chronic pain and stiffness, so went to pilates and yoga multiple times per week.
Five years later, I ran my first half marathon. When I signed up for the training program, I was scared. I was scared to work hard, and I was scared to fail. I was scared my body wouldn’t be able to handle it, and I was scared feeling incapable would send my back into a PTSD spiral.
Our first group run was 5km. I had run 5km before, but never without stopping, and only ever on a flat treadmill. For some this was a breeze, talking casually to the runners next to them. For me, it felt like the route had been designed to challenge every step that I took, every breath inhaled. My body was confused. Why were we doing this? Hadn’t we been through enough? I spent the entire run reminding myself “You can do it, you’ve already won”.
5km run, or walking to the washroom alone, knowing that YES, I CAN- was the only important thing I needed to focus on. That being in recovery didn’t define me, that having brain trauma, or PTSD didn’t define me. That accomplishing the things I go after, THAT’S what defines me.
"You can do it,
you've already won"
My first training goal was to run for 10 minutes. When that felt like too much I reminded myself of all the other, much tougher things I had done. Like the time I woke up after surgery, and was in so much pain it silenced me. This was nothing compared to that, so I ran.
When we got to hill training I would look at the monsters we had to climb, and think of them as my recovery. One big mountain to climb, one little step at a time. Maybe stopping for a breath, but always moving forward.
The combination of visualizing my story in our routes, and constantly chanting “yes I can” got me through 18 weeks of training. When it came time to actually register for race day, that familiar fear started to creep back in. But this time, I was ready and prepared to give my fears a big sweeping hug, and remind myself it wasn’t about the finish. It was about proving to myself I was more than my traumas, than my PTSD.
The amazing thing about repeating a positive affirmation to yourself, is that at some point, you don’t have space to believe it isn’t true.
When I crossed the finish line of the Scotiabank Half Marathon 2019, I wasn’t thinking about my past pains, or past struggles. I was thinking of how incredible, how HUMAN our bodies are. That they can do amazing things, and that I will never, ever take that for granted. That no matter WHAT comes my way in life, Yes. I. Can.
I am also extremely grateful to have had an amazing training group via The Running Room Yonge and Eglinton, who were quick to remind me Yes I Can, in the moments I forgot.
Follow along with Dominique's journey @domchesh and stay tuned for her new project The Embodied Alchemy Podcast, launching January 30, 2020. You can also follow along here. Photos by Eva Charalambides.