One Rose and a Smoky Bridge

Melancholy or optimism during an eerie time. What colour are your eyeglasses?


The smoke from Oregon and Washington State wildfires blanketed Vancouver skies with a haze last week, elevating British Columbia’s air quality index to a 10+, its highest rating for pollution.

A pandemic, smoky skies and a moth outbreak.

This is BC in 2020 and Lions Gate Bridge on a mid-September day, behind the rose on the beach that someone left behind.

“One rose and a smoky bridge.” Photo by MC.

Here’s what I see: “Finding quiet beauty in unexpected places.”

What do you see? Melancholy, optimism or something else? Comment below in six words, less or more.

To make a comment or to contact the writer, please visit the
"About the Writer" page or leave a comment below.


Reaching “The Other Side” with Practice


Throughout my life, I always wanted to “swim out to the log” or “swim to the dock” but I held back because of my anxiety and fear of drowning.

I admired the brave swimmers on “the other side” sunbathing and laughing on the floating dock from afar and wished I could be out there.

This summer, I practiced swimming several times (25+ swims in BC lakes and ocean). I’m a competent swimmer in shallow waters, when I know I can touch bottom or I’m close to shore. 

But I knew that if I tried harder, I could push myself to swim further and deeper.

Last week, I took my son and his cousins to the lake. For the first time ever, I swam out from the dock to this log — three times!

I don’t know how deep the lake is, but it was dark, murky, mysterious — way out of my comfort zone…and I couldn’t see bottom with my goggles. 

I was scared, but I did it!

The young boys had no problem swimming out to that log, but we were all out of breath when we reached it, with chilly lake-kissed skin and proud smiles.

This isn’t a big achievement for competent swimmers, but for me — it’s a huge milestone and I’m braver and stronger for trying.

On swimming…to the other side. Photo by MC.

Featured in Elephant Journal: “Finding Self-Empowerment Through Community & Headstand” by Mary Chang

Self-empowerment through words and headstands. The power of perseverance and encouragement.


My article is live and published on Elephant Journal: “it’s about the mindful life, an online mindful life magazine”. Read the full story here on EJ at: https://www.elephantjournal.com/2020/09/turn-the-heck-upside-down-finding-empowerment-with-headstand-mary-chang/

We’re all human beings supporting each other in some way – in our village, earth, universe. Gratitude for reading, sharing and “clicking the heart” on EJ.

My article was edited by Elizabeth Brumfield, Editor at Elephant Journal. Below are excerpts from the article along with three headstand photos I chose to showcase on my blog (that are not displayed in the the EJ posting).

Photo by Christine B.

Selfempowerment is taking control of your own life, setting goals, and making positive choices that can create a meaningful impact in some way.

Photo by Jude RM.

Whenever I do a headstand, a sense of power and confidence overwhelms me—I’m on top of the world, upside down. Wow!

Photo by D.

Encouraging others to persevere can be just as self-empowering as mastering a headstand, because it might be those words that inspire them to keep going.

Note: My original title of this article was “Self Empowerment through Words and Headstands”, edited by EJ to”Turn the Heck Upside Down: Finding Empowerment with Headstand” (Sept 3) and then re-titled by EJ (Sept 20) to: “Finding Self-Empowerment & Community through Headstand.”

To make a comment or to contact the writer, please visit the
"About the Writer" page or leave a comment below.

The Short Story Behind a Photograph

Sometimes a forgotten memory sparks joy.


This September, “back to school” in 2020 may be chaotic, but today I’m reflecting on a school snapshot from 1979.

Since reconnecting with Ms Watson (my Grade 3 teacher) last fall, we’ve been communicating on and off through social media. She sent me this message last June.

“Going through an old album today – and there you were (wearing my hat, I think).”

My teacher had written this “short story” beside the photograph (1979):

“Little Mary Chang – a real sweetie.

Wouldn’t speak or smile for the first 3 days – but not now!”

LW

I don’t remember being photographed, but I do remember my favourite t-shirt and I can imagine the delightfulness of that sunny day.

You can read the full story about my reconnection with LW here at: https://marychangstorywriter.com/2020/01/09/reconnecting-with-my-1979-grade-3-teacher-featured-in-teacher-magazine/

To make a comment or to contact the writer, please visit the
"About the Writer" page or leave a comment below.

Contest Update: Voting for the Underdog, a “Real Ordinary Person” to be on the Cover of a Fitness Magazine in a 2020 International Competition

Voting for the Underdog: How Voting Really Works Behind the Scenes & My First Time Experience Entering an International Fitness Competition


This is a follow up story to my Aug 16 blog post, https://marychangstorywriter.com/2020/08/16/want-to-see-a-real-ordinary-person-featured-on-the-cover-of-a-fitness-magazine/ This story is dedicated to everyone who voted, supported and encouraged me, including Norgate Community and North Van Moms, with a special kudos to the active members of my monthly Fitness Challenge Team.

Throughout 6 weeks of the voting process for a chance to win $20K and be featured on the cover of Hers Magazine in the 2020 Ms Health & Fitness Contest, I wobbled between 32 contestants, and finally landed at 4th place in the first group phase.

Why I entered the contest?

  • To see if a “real ordinary person” could be featured on the cover of a fitness magazine
  • To explore the “public voting process”
  • Curiosity: to see how far I could go!

The competition is judged on your feature photo, personal tag line, profile and additional fitness photos. A Ms Health & Fitness 2020 “personal voting link is created for your own profile to share with others.

Judging is done by the general public through free votes via Facebook or a paid option to donate votes in the competitors’ names for the contest’s charitable organization. Voters can vote via Facebook multiple times (but only once every 24 hrs). Votes accumulate over the voting period.

The highest number of votes received by one contestant overall, wins the competition.

Easy, right? No running races, power-lifting or gymnastics required to compete.

Screen shot: Contestants choose a profile photo and write a personal tag line for their entry. Voters can vote for free via Facebook or purchase Warrior Votes. Photo courtesy of C.B.
Screen shot: Contestants need to answer these three profile questions for their entry.
Screen shot: Contestants have the option to add additional photos for their entry. Photos courtesy of Natalie J. McMillan, C.B, J.RM, JY & CY.

From what I understand, contestants are separated into individual groups of about 30 to start the voting process. My own group had 32. I don’t know how many total groups there are or how the groups are categorized. My guess is that entries are sorted randomly into groups based on when they’re received and there may be hundreds of different groups, depending on how many women entered the contest.

Although there are no gymnastics required to compete in this contest, I was physically doing cartwheels and headstands in order to get votes!

Securing votes from the general public in this competition relies on:

  • The number of Facebook, Instagram and any other social media followers you have
  • How well you promote yourself for votes
  • How frequently you ask for votes
  • Any connections you may have from the army or army veterans as there is an option to donate unlimited “Warrior Votes” for $1 USD for each vote in the competitor’s name. Proceeds support the contest and help fund Homes for Wounded Warriors, an organization that remodels handicap accessible homes for disabled veterans. Anyone can purchase these votes but if you have any personal connections to the army, you’re likely to have an “army” of supporters.

Voting started July 20 for each 30-person group with the Top 20 round, then the Top 15, Top 10 and Top 5 rounds until it’s narrowed down to the Top 2 women in each group. This group moves on to the semi-finals and finals, where public voting is reset until they determine the winner.

As each round is completed, the photos of the contestants that didn’t make it to the next round are “faded to grey.”

Screenshot: Entrants are divided into groups of 30 for the initial voting process., then voted into the Top 20, Top 15, Top 10 and so on. As each round is completed, the colour photos of the contestants that didn’t make it to the next round are “faded to grey.”

The toughest part of the competition was asking people to vote for me.

It’s awkward and causes me anxiety but I did it because pushing myself out of my comfort zone will make me gutsier and taking on scary, new and challenging things make people stronger.

Getting votes became an ongoing daily task coming up with words, ways and photos to promote myself via Facebook, Instagram, email, text, and my blog.

I was afraid of annoying my friends, co-workers and FB groups with constant reminders and didn’t want to push or scare them away.

Screen shot: Facebook posting to remind people to vote for me.

The base of my strategy for securing votes was sharing my own personal fitness journey with others and making others believe that you don’t need to have humungous muscles, be the fastest racer or an elite gymnast to be on the cover of a fitness mag.

You just need to try your hardest, be real

and be you.

Photo courtesy of Natalie J. McMillan.

In the process of trying my hardest, sometimes it leads to inspiring others to try hard too. In April, I decided to help others better their health during the pandemic by forming and leading a free online Facebook fitness group where our members were invited to participate in various monthly fitness challenges, check in daily with their progress and encourage each other with positivity.

Leading this fitness group saved my mental health by finding my own self-purpose – during a period when I was depressed, suffering anxiety and feeling “useless” when the pandemic overwhelmed our lives.

Our fitness team formed a healthy online community built on connections through exercise, perseverance, encouragement, laughter and support. One of the key successes in this group, is that people are trying, every single day.

Screenshot: Facebook posting from our online monthly Fitness Challenge Group.

I’m not extraordinary like some other competitors in the Ms Health and Fitness competition, although I have great admiration for fierce athletes.

But I can do cartwheels, cross monkey bars and mastered my first yoga headstand at age 50 this summer!

By entering the contest, I “kept it real.”

I wanted to show that an underdog – a free-spirited 50-year old kid at heart, who loves encouraging and inspiring people, could win a chance to be featured on the cover of a fitness magazine.

It’s not an impossible goal.

“Nothing is impossible, the word itself says ‘I’m possible’!”

Audrey Hepburn

At random times throughout the day, if I visited my personal dashboard of my voting link, the names of my three most recent Facebook voters were displayed and disappeared into cyberspace when the next three voters appeared.

I recognized some of the names, while others must have been voters from the general public or friends of friends, etc.

It surprised me whenever someone voted for me or shared my voting link on their Facebook pages, including members (many I’ve never met) of various Facebook groups I belong to in my local community.

I was grateful each time someone told me they voted or encouraged me to keep going.

An elementary school friend who shared my link also voluntarily sent daily reminders to her own Facebook friends to vote for me! Another posted a link to the song “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey, one of my favourite 80’s songs; it brightened my mood on a day I was feeling “campaign fatigue”.

About a dozen people voted for me by purchasing “Warrior Votes”, including a fellow blogger I admire and follow but never met, and I discovered that one friend, I’ll call him the “Pilot”, donated over 250 votes in my name – wow! While his support made me blush, it also made me proud and those votes boosted my ranking.

It lifted my spirits and kept me going knowing that people took the time out of their busy days to vote – for me.

This contest has been an unusual and somewhat thrilling experience, watching my “bikini dancer’s pose” image bounce between the other 31 profile photos, along with any of the voters who were following my progress and cheering me on. I quietly cheered on the other underdogs in my group.

As I saw other contestants “fade to grey”, I wondered when I’d be next to lose my bright colours.

I wondered how many people were voting for me and the others, whether any contestants used those suspicious, questionable paid voting services (I didn’t —because it felt like cheating!) They instantly bombard and message your Instagram account by “promising votes for cash” if they see contestants post anything about themselves about voting on their Instagram feed.

I pondered about whether the Top 2 competitors (army veterans) were receiving lots of paid Warrior Votes due to their associated army status to stay in their unmovable positions, or if they were simply promoting themselves well.

The night before the August 20 voting deadline for the Top 5 round, where I was glued at 6th place for the previous 4 days, I posted a link to my prior story https://marychangstorywriter.com/2020/08/16/want-to-see-a-real-ordinary-person-featured-on-the-cover-of-a-fitness-magazine/ on two local community Facebook groups I belong to, introducing myself and my cause, asking members to vote for me. I also posted my usual daily voting request on my own Facebook page advising my friends of the looming deadline.

When I woke up the next morning to check my profile, I got boosted to 5th place by 9:26am and then secured a 4th place spot by the 8pm deadline!

That’s when I realized that voting works!

Screenshot: When I woke up the next morning (Aug 21) to check my profile, I got boosted to 5th place at 9:26am and then secured a 4th place spot by the 8pm (11EST) deadline!

However, by Sunday, Aug 23 after 7pm I was knocked down back to 5th place as Becky Keller moved up to reclaim her 4th position, but by Monday I bounced back up to 4th place. The top 3 competitors Debrah Thomas, Erin Walters and Kelly Sherl remained in their current positions.

On Sunday, Aug 23, I was knocked down back to 5th place, but bounced back up to 4th on Monday.

Although I’ll never know the total number of votes I received, the number of people or all of the names of those who voted for me and how often, I realized that with a combined total of only 350 Facebook, Instagram and blog followers, and an unknown number of people from the general public, just enough people voted to get me to place 4th in the Top 5 round of an international fitness competition!

I’m the only Asian, non-Caucasian contestant (and 50-year old kid at heart) who made it to the Top 5 round in my group.

Not bad for an underdog!

Maybe it’s not all about big numbers.

Hope inspires people & people inspire hope.

It’s the belief that others have in you and your goals, their encouragement and dedication to support you.

Faded to grey at 4th place.

I may have faded out in this contest, but I still have my inner shine and gratefulness for what I believe to be an extraordinary group of people who believed in me.

It’s not the cover of a fitness magazine,

but to me — it’s a win.

https://mshealthandfitness.com/2020/mary-chang

The contest is still running, and the final winner will be announced October 8. Two army veterans who were in the lead in my group, will now move on to the Wildcard round (2nd place finishers in each group) and the semi-finals and finals (1st place finishers in each group) While other competitors have bounced up and down during each round, these two popular army warriors (Deborah Thomas & Erin Walters), have stayed within the top 3 spots in my group since the start of the competition. Go super women – I’ll be cheering you on!

Feature photo: “Flexing those biceps that two 9-year old girls at the playground told me were SO BIG” Photo courtesy of Natalie J. McMillan.

To make a comment or to contact the writer, please visit the
"About the Writer" page or leave a comment below.

Want to see a “Real Ordinary Person” Featured on the Cover of a Fitness Magazine?

Voting for the Underdog: I made it to the TOP 10 in an international contest for Hers, Ms Health & Fitness Magazine!


Author update (as of August 21): After writing this story and posting it on a few community Facebook groups I belong to, the night before the Aug 20 Top 5 Voting deadline, as well as my regular daily reminders to my own FB page, I moved from 6th place and I’m now 4th place and made it to the TOP 5 ROUND!

Thank you everyone who voted for me to get me this far!

Voting for the “Group Winners” is on now until August 27th. Please vote (hopefully for me!) here: https://mshealthandfitness.com/2020/mary-chang

I still can’t believe it, but I made it to the TOP 10 in an international contest I entered for the chance to win 20K and be featured on the cover of Hers, Ms Health and Fitness Magazine! 

If I’ve inspired you by reading my Six Word stories or made you laugh, reflect or encourage you in some way — if you read my fitness journey story, https://marychangstorywriter.com/2020/06/11/something-about-mary-guts-glory-the-grouse-grind/, I hope you can please vote for me DAILY until August 20 to help me reach the TOP 5 round, by clicking my profile link below for your “free daily vote”:

https://mshealthandfitness.com/2020/mary-chang

I rediscovered myself through persevering with exercise for the past 19 months and in the process I lost 19 pounds and gained strength and self-empowerment.

I can do cartwheels, cross monkey-bars and mastered my first yoga headstand at age 50 this summer!

I’m a kid at heart. 

I learned I’m never too old or too late to start working on myself by carving space for my health by making exercise a part of my daily life. 

When I was depressed, suffering anxiety and feeling “useless” when Covid-19 overwhelmed our lives at the start of spring break, I knew that I needed to find some self-purpose and find a way to make life brighter.

In April, I decided to help others better their health during the pandemic by forming and leading a free online Facebook fitness group where our members were invited to participate in various monthly fitness challenges, check in daily with their progress and encourage each other with positivity.

Leading this group saved my mental health.

During the process, our fitness team formed a healthy online community built on connections through exercise, perseverance, encouragement, laughter and support.

I’m not extraordinary like some other competitors in the Hers Ms Health and Fitness competition, but I have great admiration for fierce athletes.

By entering this contest, I feel like I’m “keeping it real” because I’m one of the underdogs.

I don’t have humongous muscles, although last week —two 9-year old girls at the playground told me my right bicep is “SO BIG!”

PLEASE VOTE FOR ME & SHARE ON FACEBOOK TO HELP ME MAKE IT TO THE TOP 5 ROUND! VOTE DAILY UNTIL AUGUST 20!

https://mshealthandfitness.com/2020/mary-chang

I don’t excel in any sport or fitness activity, and don’t work in the fitness industry, but I love promoting health, wellness and exercise, especially when it’s free!

I don’t have a whole lot of Facebook or blog followers, I’m new to Instagram, and I’ve never entered a fitness contest like this before. I didn’t understand how to use a hashtag or what it meant — until last month! It’s awkward and uncomfortable for me to ask people to vote for me, but I do it because stretching out of my comfort zone makes me gutsier and doing scary and new things make people stronger.

I’m sometimes clumsy and uncoordinated but I’ve been trying hard to stay active, continue to be a healthy partner for my husband and a strong role model for our 9-year old son.

In the process, I rediscovered my feisty spirit, and boosted my confidence and found my inner shine. To me, that counts!

Please click below to vote for free DAILY until August 20 with your Facebook account! Click “IN HER GROUP” to see the competitors in my group phase. Every daily vote counts! Please share my profile link on your Facebook page and social media.
https://mshealthandfitness.com/2020/mary-chang

You can also help me be on the cover of Muscle & Fitness Hers while also helping support Homes for Wounded Warriors in their mission to build and remodel handicap accessible homes for disabled veterans by donating $1 Warrior Votes in Mary Chang’s name. These votes count too!

Please vote for Mary Chang, an underdog and a free-spirited 50-year old kid at heart who loves encouraging and inspiring people, and keeps trying. Help her be on the cover of a fitness magazine so she can show other ordinary people that it’s not an impossible goal!

Thank you with cartwheels, monkey bar crossings and headstands! View my complete profile and all my fitness photos in my profile link.

https://mshealthandfitness.com/2020/mary-chang

(Fitness photos courtesy of Natalie J. McMillan, Christine B, Judith R.M, Joanna Y and Chelsea)

To make a comment or to contact the writer, please visit the
"About the Writer" page or leave a comment below.

The Joy of Playing Outside


Sunlight, forests and oceans are gifts for living life, making human connection and exploring the vibrance of Earth’s beauty. I play and exercise outside whenever I can. It lifts my spirit and makes me feel connected to nature, family, friends. It boosts creativity, sparks joy and heals.

If I’m feeling down or tired, a hike in the woods, listening to the ocean or feeling the sun warm my skin does wonders. Playing in nature revives mind, energy, calms my being and brightens the day. Six words tell my truth.

Running through forest oxygen for soul.

Version 2
“Forest run”  Photo by Natalie J. McMillan.

Splash of puddles walking in rain.

Version 2
“Rain walk”  Photo by MC.

Sunlight on skin in dancer’s pose.

IMG_5524
“Sunlight on skin”  Photo by Natalie McMillan.

Swimming cold seas makes skin tingle.

Ocean Sechelt 2018
“Ocean friends” Photo by MC.

Sound of snow crunching beneath feet.

STB_2737
“Snow steps”  Photo by MC.

Climbing up mountains toughens me up.

IMG_1128
“Hiking Stawamus Chief”

Wind kisses cheeks as I pedal.

MC Bike 2005
“Cycling the river, 2005” Photo by Jason Skelton.
DB Bike Art
To make a comment or to contact the writer, please visit the
"About the Writer" page or leave a comment below.
 
 

Going with my Gut in Six


Sometimes an urge overcomes me and I want to play the way children do instinctively; without holding myself back. I’m tempted to act, but don’t because of fear, nerves or risk of embarrassment. Sometimes, I free my spirit and go with my gut. Six words tell my truth.

Bif Naked 2005
“Bif Naked, live 2005” Photo by MC.

Sing out loud like a rockstar.

Cry out loud until body trembles.

Laugh until I pee my pants.

 

Forest White Light
“Sunshine through forest…scream, run, dance”  Photo by MC.

Scream out loud to the forest.

Run free, fast until I’m breathless.

Dance the way my soul dares.

“In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.”
– Albert Schweitzer

(Featured photo: “Balancing on Rock”, Photo by Natalie McMillan)

To make a comment or to contact the writer, please visit the
"About the Writer" page or leave a comment below.

“Something about Mary: Guts, Glory & the Grouse Grind”

A true story of perseverance, change, and empowerment: How I confronted procrastination and middle age with an authentic “F*CK THAT” attitude by fighting for who I am.


My conscience warned me not to surrender to negative self-image perceptions; I needed to embrace my love handles, welcome wrinkles, sprouts of random white hair and accept that I won’t fit into my favourite jeans.

My belly bump was self-earned from the countless joys of gobbling addictive chewy candies, the satisfaction of gorging on anything deep-fried and the comforts of raiding my hidden junk food cupboard.

Now, it’s time to dress and act my age; toss out those high heels in exchange for Velcro, learn to knit – not hip hop, golf instead of backpack and settle into middle age — and the fatigue and reduced energy that comes rolling with it.

This is what I told myself when I stared at my reflection a few months before my 49th birthday last year.

FUCK – THAT – ATTITUDE. What I needed more was to fight for who I am, challenge myself to become a stronger, fiercer, healthier version of me and reclaim my feisty spirit.

For the past decade I was exhausted from parenting my 9-year old son along with managing the balancing act of work, relationships, and household responsibilities.

I was struggling to find energy to mother, discipline and substitute as the play mate of my only child after a long workday and commute, in the midst of making supper, checking his math homework and sorting laundry before taking him to his next extra-curricular activity, then repeating the process the next day.

I wondered how parents with multiple children managed the chaos, whether I’d get “caught-up” with anything that required attention and if I’d ever reclaim — myself.

My daily exhaustion fuelled my passion for junk food over exercise and tendency to either binge or procrastinate, playing a part in the result of my fatigue, anxiety and lack of self-confidence.

IMG_5642
“Hanging On” Photo by Natalie J. McMillan.

How I feel innately reflects on how I portray myself. I lost my inner shine. I wanted to revive my energy, increase my strength and restore the power behind my confidence —through exercise.

I contemplated how I could change my habits, improve my health and embark on a fitness journey.

My ultra-marathon trail racer husband assured me I could change.

Human beings are capable of more than we think,” he told me. “It’s a test of will and perseverance when I run. My body wants to give up after the first two kilometres but I keep running. These (50K to 100k) races aren’t just for me. I do them for you and to show our son that if he pushes himself, he can do anything.”

“Oh,” I replied. I paused my Netflix episode, dropped my potato chip – sighed. Could I get out the house, stretch out my comfort zone and test the endurance of my own human spirit? 

Positive self-change is admirable, empowering; tough work requiring motivation, effort and perseverance.

My husband’s fierce determination to run his first 110K mountain-trail race, my desire to become a positive role model for our son, and my guilt (my truth in knowing I wasn’t trying my personal best) launched my butt off the couch.

sport computer runners athlete
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I needed to prove to myself that I could do better and find ways to incorporate exercise into my daily routine.

After my last bag of potato chips, a week of shattering my self-doubt and delaying the beginning, I told myself “YES, today is the day.” I promised to make change by pushing myself to try harder.

Hell, I was aiming to blow out those FIFTY damn candles in one breath next year!

I set a date, created an exercise/food plan, recorded my body measurements and started with a 9-day challenge of eating no junk food, drinking two litres of water daily, not eating past dinner and walking 10,000+ daily steps.

I used stairs – not elevators, stood instead of sitting for desk job tasks and walked during breaks. I lost six pounds in nine days.

Posting my progress on Facebook becoming accountable on social media enabled me to push harder and I continued to set up monthly fitness challenges.

I cycled to work, ran during my son’s soccer games, swam during his swim lessons and knocked out Burpees during his judo practice.

I learned hip hop and contemporary dance, powered through infrared infused yoga, Pilates and fitness classes and pushed through intense 30-minute personal training sessions before or after my workday, On weekends, I hiked the notorious vertical 2,830 mountain stairs of the Grouse Grind.

IMG_5618
“Water revives.”  Photo by Natalie J. McMillan.

However, sticking to a nutritional diet was an uphill battle.

I thought about junk food every five minutes because it was ubiquitous; placed in convenient spots such as the communal office snack table, nearby cafes, fast-food joints or my kitchen cupboard.

If I craved candy, cake or Poutine, I sometimes indulged, relishing every bite but used self-talk: “Eat cake, but not every day.”

To compensate for my junk food obsession, I challenged myself to overcome my anxiety and fear of racing which led me to compete in three of “my first-ever” mountain races – the winter Grouse Grind Snowshoe Race (5km), spring Grouse Seek the Peak Race (13km) and autumn Grouse Grind Race (2.9km).

Seek-The-Peak
“Seek the Peak Race: Took me 6 months to earn the guts to step to this start line”

The races were tough, painful and killer uphill. I asked myself why the hell I signed up during every race, cursed every mountain climb and was tempted to quit. 

When I met a 73-year old female racer who passed me on the Grind leg of the Seek the Peak race, I knew I needed to keep climbing – my age was not an excuse to stop trying.

I crossed the finish line, overcome with relief exclaiming, “I can’t believe I did it – me!”

After the race my son said, “Mommy, why do you keep talking about the race – uphill, uphill, uphill…blah blah blah. It’s only 13K! Daddy ran a 50K race last week.” 

I laughed, floating on my racer’s high, proud of the glory for finishing the race. I placed 34th out of 56 female racers in my age category.

Version 2
“Proud to finish: My glory in placing 34th of 56 racers in race category” (Seek the Peak Grind Race)

Exercising enhances my well-being. It reduces my anxiety, easing me into a calm state of mind; reducing my complaints about stuff I don’t have and prevents me from comparing myself in a negative light to others. 

It shifts my focus onto what I’m grateful for, enabling me to help others. With a clear perspective things are easier to manage.

By posting my truthful progress on Facebook, I made people laugh and inspired them to become active.

I was approached by the PAC leader of my son’s school while grocery shopping who told me, “I took my first 10,000 steps because of you.”

Facebook friends supported my efforts through uplifting comments, an ex-boyfriend said I resembled my twenty-year old self (really?), a friend volunteered her expertise to shoot my fitness photos and others signed up for training I believed in.

My ultra-marathoner, proud of my achievements complimented me multiple times in the bedroom, lights on.

"Jump!" Photo by Natalie McMillan.
“Jump!” Photo by Natalie J. McMillan.

Then in March this year, “spring break” brought indefinite closures of schools along with our community centres, playgrounds, libraries, fitness facilities and non-essential services. Families were advised by our government to stay home due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

My work, parenting and fitness routine collapsed and I slipped into a state of anxiety, grief and “what the f*ck is happening to our world?”

Some point between endless Covid-19 news updates, social distancing and mild depression, I forced myself to wake up earlier, dress before noon and try not to eat too many cookies, chips or jujubes.

Each time I washed my hands I reminded myself that I’m blessed, grateful for my life in Canada and I clapped or banged my pots and pans every night at 7pm to show support to our team of local health professionals.

In April this year, instead of my usual complaining about boredom, lack of structure, menial tasks and missing in-studio workouts, I said “FUCK – THAT – ATTITUDE” and I remembered Billy Blanks! During the 90’s Tae Bo craze, I owned the entire VHS set but hadn’t done a pre-recorded workout since.

My VCR is gone but I turned toward online fitness training and challenged myself to exercise every single day to various free YouTube fitness videos for 30, 60 then 90 consecutive days (or donned a face mask like a Ninja for outdoor workouts.)

athletic sportswoman performing front double biceps pose in park
Photo by Gustavo Fring on Pexels.com

I formed and led a Facebook fitness group of a dozen members by inviting friends to join me for these online monthly challenges where we checked in daily with our progress and cheered each other on.

 It wasn’t just guts and willpower that got me through my fitness journey; this collage of people formed “my social fitness village”, kept me accountable and inspired me to persevere.

Days I push myself through a vigorous work out, I can open space within myself to engage with my son, focus on tasks or creative writing.

Days I don’t exercise and choose to binge on junk food coupled with Netflix results in lost sleep, leaving me with an aftermath of low energy, anxiety and a melancholy mood. The sugar addict in me can’t wait for those vulnerable moments and I admit I take delight in this guilty pleasure.

Most days I incorporate exercise and a nutritional diet into my lifestyle but allow space for “cheat-treats” and forgiveness for unwise decision-making between my accomplishments because sometimes I need a f*cking break — and that’s okay. I’m human, life happens and I know that tomorrow I’ll get back on track.

food plate chocolate dessert
Photo by Alexander Dummer on Pexels.com

Life is better with chocolate cake – I’m not counting calories when I think in chocolate.

By working hard, enduring the sweat, swearing and tears throughout training, I became muscled, healthier, happier and lost 19 pounds. I’m physically stronger now at age 49 than at 39 (before my geriatric pregnancy).

I’m proud to bare my belly in a bikini after the hard-earned toning of my body parts that resulted from exercise, but there is more pride behind my emergency C-section scar hidden beneath my bikini line. 

IMG_5639
“Staying true to my philosophy and self-mantra – “Try, Mary, Try Photo by Natalie J. McMillan.

Now I can take a breath, quiet my mind and capture a moment to hold my son’s hand and listen to his words, while I press pause on the cranial “to do list.” I connect with him —now— before he grows up and doesn’t want to hang out with Mommy.

I appreciate the simple joy of finding renewed strength to cross the monkey bars to endure chicken fight challenges against my son, until my palms are blistering.

Screen Shot Monkey Bars 2020-04-04 at 12.07.58 AM

I feel like a strong mother, leading by example because my son bet that he could do the gruelling, uphill 13k Seek the Peak June 2020 race (now pushed to 2021 due to C-19).

Maybe we’ll hold hands once we reach the Peak of Vancouver summit, before he asks me one last time “are we there yet?”

I’m not someone extraordinary or an ultra-marathon runner and may never be the fastest racer in my age group, but I can climb mountains.

I’m me – striving to meet my ongoing personal fitness challenges and goals. In the realm of exercise, I pushed myself harder the past 18 months than any other period of my life, reviving my energy, confidence and inner strength.

Exercise ignited my fire by empowering me to stay true to my self-mantra I set over one year ago: “Try, Mary, Try” no matter how tough it can be, it’s worth the sweat. I may not be exceptional but I re-discovered through my self-journey that there is — “Something about Mary.”

Light up those candles — this is 50.  I found my shine!

IMG_5626
“Something about Mary…finding my shine.”  Photo by Natalie J. McMillan.

Screen Shot 2019-10-19 at 10.55.15 PM

IMG_5111
“Guts, Glory & the Grouse Grind”

Note: Feature photo (“high heels out the window”) courtesy of Liza Lova on Pexels.com

To make a comment or to contact the writer, please visit the
"About the Writer" page or leave a comment below.

“The B.C. Covid-19 Collection: 2020 Six Word Art Stories created by voices of British Columbia, Canada”

We asked British Columbians how the C-word affects their lives – the beauty, truth, humour and ugliness. Here’s what they said in six words and more.


A visual story album of how the “C word” has affected our lives in British Columbia. From photographs, artwork, graffiti, personal 6-word stories written from adult perspectives, 6-word news glimpses and community snapshots to document uncertain times.

It takes thoughtful effort, collaboration and imagination to create a project like this. We may have different lifestyles, beliefs and perspectives but we all have stories to tell.

Just like the feature photo story, “Finally time to take our time”, I ask that you please take a reflective moment to read each and every six word story of this project and discover the meaning behind each one.

This is what we saw through our Corona-coloured eyeglasses in our beautiful province of British Columbia, Canada.

Our album opens with Part 1: Six Word Stories with Photographs or Artwork written, created and submitted by adult volunteers of this project.

IMG_7001
IMG_6995
IMG_6994
IMG_6999
IMG_6998

IMG_6997

The feature photograph of this project (black & white photo of girl blowing dandelion puff ball) : “Finally time to take our time.” and the above six 6-word stories were written and photographed by Claudia Ho Lem.

LW In the Azalea Garden (1)

“Peace in the garden; waiting, remembering.” Story & painting created by L.W.

Kashi IMG_7312

“My eternal love for our elderly.” Story & photo by k.m.

Carol I just want ot hug her IMG_5603“I just want to hug her.”  Story & photo (of Carol’s mother) by Carol Carter.

Version 2

“Celebrating from afar on joyous occasions.” (on missing the ability to celebrate in person with the whole family) Story & photo by Bruna Lazzano.

Mia Logie 3a8b3809-b3bc-4657-b53d-3d56e10c71b0

“Inner lives blossom. Lives are close.”  Story & photo by Mia Logie.

Screen Shot 2020-05-24 at 11.06.10 AM

“Good snatched away, hope will triumph.”  Story & photo by Gerry O’day.

Jeff Winskell

“Newfound respect for full time parents.”  Story & photo by Jeff Winskell.

Natalie Realizing you're out of toilet paper IMG_20200521_162457

“Realizing you’re out of toilet paper.”  Story & photo by Natalie McMillan.

Jenny 2 IMG_4842

“Sometimes cheerfulness shows in unexpected places.”  Story & photo by Jenny Morgan.

David Geary IMG_20200523_201555663

“Retreat, Rethink, Resign, Reset, Rejuvenate, Reverie.”  Story & photo by David Geary.

Steve Bush Just happy to be getting out

“Just happy to be getting out.”  Story & photo by Steve Bush.

       “Let the outdoor games begin!”  “Done!”  Story & photos by Victoria.

Jim Derricot image0 (3)

“No panic. We are here. Now.”  Story & photo by Jim Derricott.

John B IMG_7262

“Peace and freedom without Covid 19.”  Story & photo by JB.

Dolores 3IMG_2766“Wife’s first haircut?  Husband: guinea pig.”  Story & photo by Dolores.

PETER b8ea6cc7-8035-48a9-a861-8312aa456ffa

“This s**t has driven me to…”  Story & artwork by P.B.”

Joann Anna IMG_7352 2

Covid pictures instead of rainbow pictures!” A mother’s perspective on the subject of her daughter’s recent drawings (depicting the corona virus). Story & artwork, Anonymous.

Erina 2 IMG_7263

“Feel great when the body moves.”  By Erina.

Erina 1 IMG_7264

Wishing to the star…seeing friends.Ryo found the first star of the evening and immediately wished upon it to see his friends. Story & photo by Erina.

Shaya #1 new 2020-05-29 at 11.43.41 AM

Above four 6-word stories written by Shaya Sy-Rantfors.

Shay #2 new Screen Shot 2020-05-29 at 11.43.07 AM

Above story & photo by Shaya Sy-Rantfors.

Nancy IMG_7305

“No work – more time to garden.” Story and photo by Nancy.

Jenny IMG_5897

“Utter satisfaction – growing my  own food.”  Story & photo by Jenny Morgan.

IMG_6837

“Patience, Family, Challenging, Isolated, Strength, Community.” Story & photo by Michelle Kaltenegger.

Phil Evans 84101213_495097501207160_8211579781750194176_n“They painted the hearts upside down.” Story & photo by @captphilevans.

Kristen Buckley image0 (3)“Vision becomes reality – functional, natural art.” Story and table created by Kristen Buckley. Photo by A.B.  (Yes, she made this table. It’s an old growth fir sourced from a timber furniture design business in Squamish, designed from a raw slab that started with bark and all! Legs sourced from Ontario and then the slab was sanded and finished with love.) 

Cea Sunrise Persons IMG_7309“A minefield of gratitude and resentment.” Story & photo by CSP.

Susan blue

“Mama. Yes. Mama. Yes. Mama. Yeeeeeeesssss.”  Story & photo by Susan Little.

Judith IMG_7304

“Hugs overpowering uncertainty, fear and sadness. “ Story & photo by Judith Reyes Metcalfe.

Anna IMG_7307

“My loves, delicate balance, life continues.”  Story & photo by Anna Parkes.

Susan Evvie image0 (3)

“Time erases memories. Memories erase time.”  Story & photo by Susan Little.

Susan Smith 99436892_3152704771439318_5484399832258838528_n

“From chaos, freedom emerges, commute-free.” Story & photo by Susan Smith Alexander.

Agnes Dailisay IMG_7351

“Faith in God is believer’s shield.” Story by Agnes Dalisay. Photo by Sophia Stewart featuring her sister, Raquel Stewart.

Christine IMG_0152

“Quarantine yoga. It keeps me grounded.” Story by Christine B. Photo by C.B.

IMG_E6952

“Finding my sunshine inside and out.”  Story by Mary Chang.

Next is Part 2 of our album (during PHASE 1): Photographs documenting what we’ve noticed around our community.

IMG_5937
“Playground.” Photo by Shaya Sy-Rantfors.
39cadf08-a123-4685-8d33-b95c619002e7
“Sidewalk.” Photo by P.B.
IMG_6176

IMG_6565

IMG_6103
IMG_6813

Next is Part 2 (continued) of our album (during PHASE 2): Photographs documenting what we’ve noticed in our community.

toilet paper full IMG_7311
IMG_7324
IMG_7337
PT Theatre IMG_7358
IMG_7319
IMG_7322
Mattress 6 feet IMG_7438
Bike 6 ft IMG_7439
Yoga Mat 6 feet IMG_7441
Yoga Sign IMG_7538
Shell Gas June 17 IMG_7531
PENTHOUSE HAVING FUN SO LAST YEAR 101344958_10158050007326091_886999397013772373_n
Photo by Cecilia Graber Larrea.
Penthouse by Mary IMG_7694
Photo by KS. Inspired by W.C.
Save the World IMG_7474
Together Natalie McMillan IMG_7405

Photo by Natalie McMillan.

Hug Tshirt IMG_7675

IMG_7192“Beauty, truth, humour, ugliness, nature, art.” Story & photo by M.C. (graffiti artist unknown)

Next is Part 2 (continued) of our album (during PHASE 3): Photographs documenting what we’ve noticed in our community.

Alcohol allowed in some outdoor spaces.
Store bought face masks on shelf.
“Handmade masks on a trusty Pfaff” Submitted by Christine B.
“A smile goes a long way” Submitted by Chrissy Chequer.
Face masks become mandatory on Transit. (Aug 24/20)
Face masks mandatory on BC Ferries (Aug 24/20) Photo by J. R-M.
“Seabus Owl” wears a mask too!
“Bye Corona” Two words everyone is hoping for… Photo by MC, artwork unknown.

Lastly, Part 3 of our Album: List of British Columbia and Lower Mainland Highlights During Pandemic, in 6 Word Points:

  • Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau
  • 36th Premier of BC, John Horgan
  • Dr. Bonnie Henry, British Columbia PHO
  • Dr. Teresa Tam, Canada Chief PHO
  • Adrian Dix, BC Minister of Health
  • Nigel Howard, sign language hero
  • First death Lynn Valley Care Home (March 9, first death in Canada)
  • All British Columbia Public Schools Close (March 17)
  • Community centres, libraries, non-essential services close (March/April)
  • Spring camps, extra-curricular activities cancelled (March)
  • Playgrounds, skateboard parks, ski mountains close (March)
  • Some parks, trails, parking lots close (March)
  • Beaches, most parks, trails remain open (March)
  • Restaurants offer take away service only (March/April)
  • Dental practices offer emergency dental only (March)
  • Long hair due to salon closures
  • Social distancing, hand washing, face masks (March)
  • How Coronavirus took Lynn Valley article (Globe & Mail, March 21)
  • Local distilleries make free hand sanitizer (March)
  • Pots, pans, applause at 7pm nightly (for health care workers, March)
  • “Growing up in Quarantineland” by Margaret Atwood (Globe & Mail, March 28)
  • Bonnie Henry & Theresa Tam Art Mural (March)
  • Free online education, fitness, mental health etc (March)
  • Trudeau sends a message through Lego (April)
  • Homeschooling begins online with public schools (mid-April)
  • Parents f*cking hate trying to homeschool (ongoing)
  • Parents appreciate teachers more than ever (ongoing)
  • Dr. Bonnie Henry’s John Fluevog shoes (April)
  • White Caps face-masks to save Aquarium (April)
  • Government Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB)
  • Income Tax filing deadline extended June 1
  • Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) support
  • Rent, mortgage, student loan financial support
  • Restrictions ease Victoria Day May weekend
  • Phase 1 ends May 18 Victoria Day (See Phase 1, BC’s Restart Plan)
  • https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/safety/emergency-preparedness-response-recovery/covid-19-provincial-support/phase-1
  • We enter Phase 2 for Covid (ends June 23, See Phase 2, BC’s Restart Plan)
  • https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/safety/emergency-preparedness-response-recovery/covid-19-provincial-support/phase-2
  • Cruise ships not welcome for summer (May)
  • 6 people gatherings, still no travel
  • North Shore Bowling closes for good (after 59 years! due to C-19, June)
  • Several businesses re-open, others close permanently.
  • Campgrounds set to reopen June 1
  • Voluntary return to school June 1
  • Parents fear making “voluntary” schooling decisions
  • Part-time school, staggering start hours
  • Elementary 50%, Secondary 20% – in class
  • Playgrounds being to re-open June 1
  • When will this f*cking pandemic end?
  • Waiting on vaccine to be created.
  • “Be kind, be calm, be safe.” (Dr. Bonnie Henry’s advice)
  • Phase 3 to start in June (June 24, See Phase 3, BC’s Restart Plan)
  • https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/safety/emergency-preparedness-response-recovery/covid-19-provincial-support/phase-3
  • Non-essential travel and film production resume
  • Careful travel allowed within the province
  • US Border non-essential travel remains closed
  • Many hotels, accommodations, resorts resume operations
  • Gatherings larger than 50 still banned
  • Limit the people within your bubble
  • Continue hand washing, social distancing, cleaning
  • Face masks mandatory for Translink, BC Ferries (Aug 24)
  •  Schools set to re-open September 10
  • Phase 4 Conditional on global availability of vaccine
  • https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/safety/emergency-preparedness-response-recovery/covid-19-provincial-support/phase-4
  • Ferry passengers can’t remain in cars (during sailings on enclosed car decks, BC Ferries)