[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text margin_bottom=”0″]This time for our positive running story we interview British athlete, and California resident, Olivia Bryant. Olivia has faced many physical and emotional challenges to her life, and has often turned to holistic and natural remedies to aid her recovery. Her story is hugely inspiring, as is spending time in her company!
Can you tell us about your running background?
When I was growing up, I participated in many different activities; gymnastics, athletics, netball (the classic British sport) and even rugby. I was a typical energetic tomboy. At the age of thirteen my life came to what seemed like a grounding halt when I developed Crohn’s disease. The copious amounts of energy that I had had as a child disappeared as the disease progressed. After trying numerous treatment paths, I eventually underwent surgery to remove part of my bowel. In the recovery period, I slowly regained my strength and confidence by starting back at school and attending social events. But somewhere deep down I was yearning for more. I wanted to be an athlete again. I remember the moment when I decided that distance running would be the thing that would make me an athlete again. I was participating in a 1500m fun run as part of P.E. class at school and to my complete surprise I came second. “I could be good at this distance running thing”, I thought to myself. Over the next year, I started running more seriously by joining a club and following a training regime. Although I wasn’t competing at a high level, I was making slow progress and had started dreaming of bigger things. I wanted to go to the national championships and compete with the best. I had a purpose again. In order to achieve my goal I needed a great coach. Lucky for me, one of Britain’s top youth coaches, Mick Woods, coached at a club an hours drive from me. This was a reasonable commute for an optimistic, dogmatic youth armed with a supportive mum and the desire to be the best. I remember the first club session that I attended. It was a Tuesday night in January. The temperature was sub-zero degrees and it was pitch black. My mum told me in the car down to not be disappointed if only a few athletes turned up because of the weather. We arrived and low and behold, the stadium was filled with over a hundred young runners ready to give it all they had in the session ahead. I knew in that moment I had found my community. I excelled over the next few years under the careful guidance of Mick. It was hard work and I had my fair share of setbacks, but I steadily worked my way up the ranks until I was in the top 20 distance runners in GB for my age group. I managed to secure a place as a walk-on for the Stanford cross country team and joined the team for a year until injury got the better of me. I had been running competitively for 7 years by that point and my body and mind were ready to do something different. I have since competed in a variety of endurance sports including cycling and triathlon, although my heart sings most loudly when I’m running the trails in the the great outdoors.
You had a deep connection with your Dad as a youngster, can you share what that was like for you growing up?
I inherited my athleticism and love for the great outdoors from my dad. He was an all-around exceptional athlete and participated competitively in many different sports including field hockey, rugby and skiing. He was also a musician, a lover of philosophy, a joker and show-off. Even as a young child, I shared many of these same passions and traits, and we developed a deep connection. My early memories of my dad are few and far between but they all center around activities that we enjoyed together. I remember setting up a slippy slide with him in the back yard by laying out a tarpaulin and covering it with dish soap. We would then spend hours running and launching ourselves onto the tarpaulin and sliding ferociously down the garden. I also remember sitting on his lap and singing while he played piano; he was a brilliant pianist. When I was 5 years old, my dad was diagnosed with an aggressive form of melanoma. In those days it was untreatable and he passed away within 2 years, leaving my mother to bring up 3 young girls. I am incredibly lucky to have a wonderful mother who has overcome tremendous hurdles and acted with courage, strength and unwavering love towards me and my sisters. It is with her support that I have managed to come to terms with the loss of my father. It’s hard to describe the deep impact of loosing your father at such a young age. I recognize now that it left many emotional scars and stories that have deeply affected the way that I have decided to live my life. My passion for running, for example, is intricately linked to my father. When I was struggling with Crohn’s I made a pact that I would defeat this disease in honor of my father who battled his cancer with amazing fortitude and courage. Through working hard year on year to become a successful runner, I was able to prove to myself and others that I was winning my battle. I have faced many hurdles along the way. But no matter how big the hurdle, I have eventually managed to get over it. It was my father that has inspired me to be able to do so.
You had a message come to you in pretty amazing circumstances. Can you share how that happened, and what took place?
Three years ago in the fall quarter of my junior year at college, I started feeling severely fatigued and was diagnosed with mono. The recovery period was three months after which I returned to triathlon training (which was my sport of choice at the time). In the months following, however, I continued to experience low-level symptoms: brain fog, chronic joint pain, headaches, and ongoing fatigue. The more I ignored them, the worse they got. I made it to graduation but by that time it was clear that there was something seriously wrong. The summer after graduation confirmed this when I had a series of seizures. Finally, two and a half after I had first developed mono, I was diagnosed with chronic lyme disease which is a horrible virus that attacks many aspects of your mind, body and spirit. One of the most debilitating symptoms of Lyme disease is the deep and persistent fatigue that makes you feel like you’re carrying a ton of bricks on your shoulders. Despite the fatigue, there were few days up until August of this past year that I didn’t go for a run. There were many days where I felt like I had completed a marathon after ten minutes and I would drag myself home defeated. Clearly my body didn’t want to run but my mind couldn’t let it go. Something was driving my out of the door. As I was healing from Lyme disease, I started supporting a mind-body class for pediatric patients at UCSF with a wonderful nonprofit called Communitas. The class teaches young people mind-body exercises and techniques to help them manage their chronic pain. One of the exercises we teach is called “Wise Guide”. In this exercise, you meditate on your safe place (any physical place that makes you feel at ease) and from this place you call forward your wise guide, which is anything or anyone who has wisdom to share with you. It might be a friend, a family member, a pet or perhaps something as abstract as your bowels. It is a wonderful exercise that I would recommend to anyone. It was a Saturday in February when we did this exercise with the Communities group. On that particular morning, I found myself meditating on my favorite running trail which winds up the hills of Marin County near SF until it reaches a peak overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge. I was wearing my running kit. I called my wise guide and to my surprise it was my dad that walked my way. He sat with me and we chatted for the first time in many years. “I’m so proud of you and love you so much” he said. “You don’t have to blame yourself for anything. There was nothing anyone could do. We tried our hardest and now I’m at peace.” I started weeping and when I emerged from the meditation, it was as if a weight had lifted off my shoulders. It was in that moment I realized that I run everyday in honor of my father. It is my way to be with him, not physically but spiritually.
What has this connection meant to your running, and your life in general?
Since this experience, my relationship with running has changed. My drive to run everyday despite debilitating fatigue had caused me to stop enjoying it as an activity. It was a way to subconsciously connect with my father but over time it had turned into an unhealthy obsession which was preventing me from getting better. After my conversation with my father, I slowly began to feed my body the things in needed to heal. I spent more time reading, meditating and cooking. I channeled all of my energy into deepening my state of rest and relaxation. It was not easy as I had become so accustomed to being on the go, but slowly I began to reap the benefits. I had started to delve more into meditation over this period and it was here that I found the peace of mind that I needed to heal. When I shared this with my grandmother (my father’s mother), she told me that my father had spent time in a Buddhist monestary in Myanmar after graduating college and was deeply invested in his meditation practice. I came to realize that my connection with my father was multi-faceted; It went well beyond the act of running. This realization didn’t reduce my love for running. I am most happy when I’m running in the trails of the great outdoors, accompanied by the sounds of the birds, the wind and my beating heart. But I also know that if my father were here today, he would want me to channel my energy into healing in this period of my life. By doing this I will regain my strength, and once again, I will be able to run with the same energy, joy and gratefulness that I used to.
You spent several days in Estes Park, Colorado in August. What has this been like for you, and what do you enjoy most about being in this part of the World?
I think of Estes Park as my healing mandala (to draw from Buddhist ideology). Every time I arrive in the Rocky Mountains, I feel a surge of energy and joyfulness. It’s as if I have returned to my natural habitat. I have tried to work out why I feel this way in the mountains. I think its a combination of the fresh mountain air, the beautiful coniferous scenery, the fluidity of time, and the ability to disentangle from the busyness of modern life. Estes allows me to be immersed in the simplicity of the present moment. It reminds me that the world was here many years before me, and will continue for many years after. It is in this state of mind that I can feel myself healing physically, emotionally and spiritually.
Your quest for happiness has become an important part of your life. How do you manage this, and what has this meant to your running?
Over the past year, I have become deeply involved in a Buddhist community in San Francisco called Juniper. This community has supported my growth and quest for peace of mind. It has taught me practices that have allowed me to realize my inner potential, and it has carried me through the ups and downs of my healing journey. Meditation is now an integral part of my daily routine and will continue to be for the rest of my life. I have come to realize that although I have healed from my acute diseases, I still have much healing to do if I’m to be the best version of myself; Juniper provides me all of the resources and support that I need to continue to heal and grow.
As for my running practice, three days ago I went for my first run in months. It was more of a slow, idle jog, and arguably closer to a walk than a run, but it counts! Despite being physically weakened from the Lyme disease, I felt deeply connected to my body and breath. Everything was moving in harmony. I listened carefully to my body and when it was tired, I stopped and walked, something my pride would have prevented me from doing in the past. When it was recovered, I picked up the pace to reach a gentle jog. I finished my run with more energy than when I started. What more could I ask for.
What do the immediate and long term futures hold for you in terms of your running?
As I continue to gently ease back into running, I’m excited to explore the power of the mind-body connection. I know that meditation has many more lessons to teach me about both running and life. I’m not setting performance goals for my running in the immediate or long-term future. I would like to race again and feel the burn of pushing my body to its limits but I will only do so when and if my body is ready. I will also think carefully about my running medium of choice and will probably choose the trails over the road or track.
That being said, I do have one goal for my running and I will hold it close in the near, immediate and long-term future. My goal is to continue to experience running as a joyful expression of being alive.
This piece is written in memory of Lucy and Stacey, two talented young runners from my UK running club. They were tragically hit and killed while warming up for the Tuesday night club session in November 2016. I hope that their families, the Aldershot, Farnham and District Running club and the broader running community find peace while coming to terms with this tragic loss.[/vc_column_text][vc_separator border_width=”2″][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text margin_bottom=”10″]Terry Chiplin, the visionary behind activacuity, provides positive coaching sessions for clients, working with athletes to enable a positive focus on their status and goals. He can also create personalized guided imagery sessions for clients, delivered as an mp3 audio file that you can listen to on multiple devices.
From Estes Park, Colorado, USA, the home of the POSITIVE RUNNING MOVEMENT™.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_wp_categories options=”dropdown,count”][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_wp_search][/vc_column][/vc_row]