by Kalia Douglas-Micallef
“But I’m tired,” I moaned and huffed as my mother and I arrived at a crosswalk with the red hand flashing.
“There are no red lights in marathons,” my mother would say.
“Keep jogging on the spot!”
My mother, Gabriella, transformed her life through running. At times, it seemed that running was the new love of her life in place of me, her daughter. I would wait in the early mornings for what seemed like forever for my mom to come back from her long runs. I would be the last one to be picked up at birthday parties due to her running.
She travelled far and wide, just for running.
“I want to come with you,” I begged. She never budged, insisting that I was too young to run with her. After complaining several times, she finally gave in and signed me up for a kids’ 1K race.
I remember that race. I identify as hard of hearing/deaf and I have worn hearing aids since I was 10 months old. At the start of the race, it felt like there were hundreds of other children scattered throughout the field, yelling and screaming. I was trying really hard to hear the referee, preparing myself for that whistle to blow, so I didn’t fall behind my peers. After all, it was a race!
Prior to my mother’s transformation, she was a heavy smoker for more than half of her life. She smoked cigarettes for 30 years, quit smoking, and became a four-time marathoner. In the summer of 2007, when I was 10, my mother was diagnosed with Stage 4 NSCLC (non-small cell lung cancer). Initially, this slowed down her running, as she had to focus on treatment.
When the school year started that year, I joined the cross-country team, and that’s when I fell in love with running. My mom would come with me to my practice runs at 6:00 a.m. I remember the feeling like yesterday. I had run 17 laps, and was rewarded with a runner’s high.
I had the widest grin on my face as I screamed, “I can’t stop running!” My mom said: “That’s my girl! Keep going!”
In 2008, in the middle of her chemotherapy, my mother ran the Med City Half Marathon in Rochester, Minnesota in three hours flat. It wasn’t her best time, but considering the circumstances, it was more than enough to attract the news. On the TV segment, her comment was: “I’m going to be alive to see my daughter graduate, and way beyond that.” She ran wearing her custom-made running apparel with the message “Cancer survivor. Running strong, running free.”
Fast forward to 2011. My mother’s health had deteriorated and declined slowly over the years. As a marathoner, this was hard for her to accept. She was still in the gym, strength training to improve her form and overall health. She decided that as a family, we would run the annual Scotiabank Waterfront 5K race in Toronto. She walked it in two hours. That was the last race she ever completed. She passed away two months later.
My mother was a force to be reckoned with. Now, it’s as though her love for running has positioned itself deep within my soul to the point where it’s almost effortless. Running, to me, has become a symbol of life. Running is so much more than just a number or a calculation of pace per kilometre. Running is an act of transformation. I choose to run for the rights of the deaf and hard of hearing. I choose to run to honour my mother, and all that she embodied. When I feel like giving up, I can feel my mother running alongside me, her big veiny hands squeezing mine, repeating: “There are no red lights in marathons!” And suddenly I’m revved up, with the utmost faith in life. Thanks, Mom.