Wednesday, May 28, 2014

I am strong. I am a never-giver-upper. I am a champion.

Say it loud, say it louder, look at your neighbour and tell them... I am strong. I am a never-giver-upper. I am a champion.

Sylvia Ruegger pumping up the spirits of 180 children minutes before their 5-k race at Assiniboine Park, Winnipeg, May 2014.
"Say it loud, say it louder, look at your neighbour and tell them....
I am strong. I am a never-giver-upper. I am a champion"

Moments before my interview with Sylvia Ruegger my hip journalist friend Carly provided sage advice... just be yourself and don't geek out

With pen poised and mantra…don’t geek out, don’t geek out, don’t geek out…I approached Sylvia.

In 1985 Sylvia completed the Houston Marathon in 2 hours, 28 minutes, 36 seconds and in doing so established a Canadian women record for the marathon event that reigned supreme for 28 years.

"The audacity of hope"
Sylvia Ruegger 1985, Houston Marathon where she set her 28-year marathon record.
But wait, there’s more!

In 1984, twenty-three year old Sylvia Ruegger represented Canada at the historic Los Angeles Olympics placing 8th in a field of 50 women with a time of 2 hours, 29 minutes, 9 seconds. The 1984 Olympics were the first time women were permitted to run the marathon event. Prior to 1984 the Olympic governing body believed women were just too darn delicate for such a rigorous event.

Sylvia explains the significance;

“It was an honor and privilege to represent Canada at this historic event, but it was an equal honor to represent women athletes world-wide. We were pioneers of the sport for the world.”

Aldo Furlan, Teacher, Start-2-Finish Coach, and Course Director for Ted's Run for Literacy.
But wait, there’s more!

In 2010 the International Track and Field Committee attempted to strip Sylvia of her Olympic record because her run -they claimed- was “testosterone enhanced”. The Track and Field Committee -all men- argued because Sylvia ran on a course with men she benefited from their male pacing.  

Sylvia’s responded with typical Ruegger passion;

“Go after the dopers. We did it clean. We did it on hard work and sacrifice. If one of those guys wants to come and look at all my journals of what I did, the price I paid to run that time, it was not because there was a guy running in the race, it was because I ran 200 kilometers a week and gave up everything else.”

The International Track and Field Committee came to their senses and dropped their mean spirited accusations of testosterone enhancement.

Roger Berrington, Manitoba Director for Start-2Finish and proud supporter of Ted's Run for Literacy.
But wait, there’s more!

Canadian Lanni Marchant has been nipping at Sylvia’s heels for years so it was no surprise when, at the 2013 Toronto Waterfront Marathon, Lanni stole the 28-year record besting Sylvia’s time by 38 seconds. At the same event Krista DuChene, another Canadian who has been chasing Sylvia's record, ran a 2:28:30, beating Sylvia’s record by 6 seconds.  Sylvia was at the finish to welcome and congratulate Lanni and Krista as they crossed the line. 

When asked how it felt to lose her 28-year record Sylvia replied with dignity and grace;

“I know what it takes to achieve this record.  I know the sacrifices these two made. I have nothing but the highest regard and respect for these two women.”

And then, as an after thought;

“I am grateful for their strength, for my strength. I am most grateful for my record because it has provided me with a platform to speak up for children.”  Sylvia is the founder and driving force behind Start-2-Finish.

Start-2-Finish is the platform to eradicate childhood poverty.  The mandate of Start-2-Finish is …to break the cycle of childhood poverty by providing educational support to Canada’s at risk children, nurturing mind, body, and social health so they are empowered to succeed and become role models for change.
All winners, all champions, all never-giver-uppers.

When asked if she truly believed that childhood poverty could ever be eradicated she talked of dreams and spoke of “the audacity of hope” ...

“When we have a dream we must be bold and courageous.  We must be audacious in our hope for the dream.  We must be willing to take surprisingly bold risks.”

Sylvia then paused briefly and looked deeply into my eyes;

“Terry Fox” she explained “ had a dream that some considered foolhardy and look at the results of his dream.”

“Days before Terry succumbed to cancer he answered a reporter’s question of hope and dreams.”

“I want this to always be an example of courage,” said Terry  “not foolishness.”

This is what Sylvia wants of her dream. Indeed, it is no small task to eradicate childhood poverty, but neither was Terry's dream to eradicate cancer. We have no choice. We must try.  She implores us to believe in the dream, to see courage when others see foolishness, to hope when others are overwhelmed, to see light when others live in darkness.  

Sylvia wants us to be big in our dreams, to care deeply, and believe in the audacity of hope.

You see friends, for Sylvia, it’s not so much about the dream, it's about who we become in achieving the dream. 

It’s about what kind of society we want to leave our children. 

It’s about caring for humanity.  

It’s about action. 

It's about putting legs to our dreams and moving with perpetual forward motion. 

It's about being relentlessly positive. 

It's about moving your feet when you pray.

Ted’s Run for Literacy is a proud supporter of Start-2-Finish and we are graced with our association with Sylvia Ruegger.

It’s an audacious to be alive.


Ted's Run for Literacy purchased 200 pair of high-end running
shoes for kids in the Start-2-Finish Running and Reading Club.