Meeting a challenge and finding a hero

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Jan Veen in The Commander's Race at the Canada Army RunJan Veen in The Commander's Race at the Canada Army Run

Jan Veen has been running for as long as she can remember. “I’ve done so many races, I can’t even count how many,” says the Oil Springs marathoner.

“I don’t run for competition, I love to run. I love to be outside and see the world changing.”

And she loves to be able to help others during competitions – giving encouragement or tips along the way.

Veen, who can regularly be seen running the back roads around Lambton County, ran 22 events this year but one made an emotional impact.

Veen had heard about the Canada Army Run where members of the military – both able bodied and injured – run either a 5k or half marathon with members of the public. It’s billed as a chance for the military to thank Canadians for their support and civilians to say thank you for the military service.

What caught Veen’s eye was a new event – the Commander’s Challenge. Runners would first run a 5k and then take on the half marathon course. “It’s for serious runners – hard core runners,” says Veen noting running two races an hour apart is tough on the body. “It’s almost never heard of and that’s why I wanted to do it.”

So, she signed up. But what Veen didn’t expect was the emotional impact of running with members of the military who were overcoming the life-altering disabilities they endure because of their service. Veen ran along side the service men and offered an encouraging word, but she found it was the servicemen and women who inspired her.

Veen writes:

Early in the race, I came up to a running soldier with a race-bib on his back that read “I’m running in memory of my daughter.” My first thought was “Yes, I run for my daughter as well.” But then I realized that he was a father that had lost his daughter in war. As I passed him, I reached out, touched his race-bib, and simply said “Your daughter is proud of you.” He reached over, and embraced me, mid-stride. I choked back tears.

At about the 16-km marker, I approached yet-another challenging incline in the sweltering heat. My quads were screaming with the effort – not enough fluids to sustain the pace I had held – so I slowed. Through my sweat-streaked sunglasses, I spotted what appeared to be a box tossed from the crowds and tumbling awkwardly forward up the hill. 

I dodged through runners for a better look and realized it was a young man – a triple-amputee – perched awkwardly on a skateboard. n-running-challenge

His left leg was amputated at the knee and sprawled forward, his right leg was somewhat longer, and sprawled behind. He balanced his body on the skateboard with his left arm  amputated just below the elbow. 

With three strong swipes of his right hand, he’d propel himself forward on the hot pavement then balance himself and raise his arm to salute the cheering crowds. Pinned to his back was a military race-bib that simply said “Christopher.” I ran up to his side, gently touched his bib and said “Christopher! You go Guy! You are my hero!” 

He looked up at me and I’ll forever remember the grin on his face. It was mischievous and joyful; he gave me the thumbs-up. 

There is no struggle in difficulty that is self-inflicted. 

I knew this challenge would not be easy – it was one that I accepted.

 I refocused and again revisited my philosophy that everyone has a cross to bear – the challenge lies in how you will carry it. 

Being able to put one-foot-in-front-of-the-other was truly a blessing and the mischievous smile of Christopher was an inspiration that will never be forgotten.

After the Two-Stage race, I was formally presented with the Commander’s Challenge medallion by a Commander and his military troop. I could not help but think of Christopher, and hoped he was justly satisfied by his no-doubt exhausting efforts.

The Canadian Army Run is not only one of Canada’s most highly-rated events, but an opportunity to revisit the meaning of inspiration and strength itself. 

Along the course, I found the opportunities to “high-five”, cheer, and embrace military participants that were offering their sorrows, loss and trauma to revive, spark and encourage the strength of others. 

I was both humbled and proud to be a part of an event that raised  a record $1.6 million for Soldier On and the Military Families Fund.

It’s seriously a life-changer: even from the perspective of a world-accomplished masters runner. Perhaps because I do not run for time: I run for the experience of life itself.

Long-distance runners spend a lot of hours pondering – given the obvious time that our bodies go on “automatic pilot” and our brains are free to work over-time. There are few things about ourselves that we have left to over-analyze or discover.

I signed up for the Commander’s Challenge intrigued by the opportunity to create a successful training formula that would result in a strong finish, a smile, and a respectable time. Little did I know that, along the course, I would meet my hero; when I didn’t even know I had one.

Christopher chose to participate in this race without the assistance of prosthetic limbs, running-blades or even the high-tech wheeled or mobility devices that were available to him. He had no guide-runners to assist him. His choice to wave constantly to the crowd – while burning an enormous amount of much-needed-energy – was not to generate cheers of praise or support, but to spark and ignite inspiration in the tens-of-thousands he passed. 

His body told the story of insurmountable trauma, struggle, courage, tenacity and strength.  His face – glowing with pride and true joy – told the tale of success. 

He had chosen to embrace happiness despite the obvious challenges he had conquered, the intense physical demands of participating in The Army Run… and the difficulties that face him daily. 

That is success. He is my hero.

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