Streetfront Builds a Community for Troubled Youth Around Running

Photo courtesy of the Vancouver Courier

Hidden away in a pair of joined portables on the cusp of Britannia Secondary’s property is one of the Vancouver School Board’s most dynamic and inspiring programs.

It’s called Streetfront. Captained by Head Teacher Trevor Stokes, Streefront is an alternative program aimed at giving kids that don’t fit into regular secondary school a second chance by making them work for it. How? Marathon running. For the past decade, Stokes has been taking bunches of youth to compete (and finish) in the Seattle and Vancouver Marathons. Frequently the youngest competitors of these 42.195 kilometer races are Streetfront youth.

For Stokes, the marathon is a perfect metaphor for his students’ lives, particularly the lives of troubled kids used to quitting (and being quitted on). He’s fond of saying that during a marathon, there are 42,195 opportunities to quit. That his students choose to push their physical limits and persevere says a lot. Their drive to train and prepare over the months of less glamorous running in the rain and mud of Vancouver leading up to the run says even more.

Streetfront youth run three times a week and also do a wide range of other physical activities like soccer, basketball and skiing. Their runs take them everywhere. They run to nearby parks one day and then all the way to Deep Cove (in another suburb of the Lower Mainland) or Stanley Park the next day. Stokes says the running instils an impressive amount of discipline and structure in lives that frequently completely lack it.

The program is one of a number of innovative alternative programs offered throughout the city. It’s designed for Grade 8 – 10 students. During the semester, the students spend approximately 35 days out of 190 school days in the outdoor environment. This includes three full day camp trips. In between the runs and outdoor excursions, students work on math, sciences, socials and English.

The results have been inspiring. Some students that have failed or been kicked out of several schools thrive at the Streetfront program.  Others have managed to pull their lives together, find work, enter back into secondary school and go on to university. Then there are the alumni. Stokes says groups of them still keep coming back to run with him and his students, years after graduating. Talk about a powerfully inspiring community.

Winter

Winter has been slow arriving this year. In a lot of ways it is hard to complain. The warmer weather is easier on our energy bills and makes for an less stressful commute, especially as a transit strike since October still has me driving when I’d much rather be reading, listening to music, or doing a better job with my gumboot posts. But at the same time there are a lot of parts of winter that I’ve been looking forward to that as a result of the warmer weather I’ve put off. But in the last couple of weeks winter has shown up in Toronto, the air is crisp and there is snow on the ground. I want to share a few things that make the dark, cold, snowy (or rainy) months something for me to enjoy and hope you too find positivity in the months ahead.

Getting (and Sleeping) Outside.

I wasn’t always a fan of spending time outside in winter until I started running a few years ago and kept on running right through winter.  (Check out Jim’s past post on the lonely community of winter runners).  I then realized that being outside in winter makes those dark vitamin D deprived months a lot better. Sure there aren’t seemly endless hours of sunshine and instead there are layers of every type of clothing imaginable, but there also aren’t sunburns or mosquitoes.  This year, Jim and I are taking our quest to embrace winter a step further with our plan to complete a whole year of camping every month.  And after sleeping outside on Dec. 23 and Dec. 24, with temperature dipping close to -20C the first night and waking up to a white Christmas the next, I can say that I’m looking forward to more outside time in the months ahead.

Seasonal Hobbies (and hobbies that adapt to the season).

When I’m not outside in winter I enjoy being curled up on a coach with cat on my lap, watching TV, which I do way more of in the winter (I’m re-watching The Wire right now).  Two additional hobbies make this better, knitting and beer.  I’m a seasonal knitter and it wasn’t until last week that I picked up the needles again, which coincided with Toronto’s first substantial snowfall.  It means that when my tendency is more towards hibernation than outside, I end up with something cozy coincidentally makes winter better.  Beer, which I’ve recently started brewing, had to undergo some adaptations for winter, which we’re still working out.  The brewery has moved from friends’  backward to our apartment for the winter, where our back deck’s overhang and ground-level bathtub (for the beer chilling) means we can brew through the cold months.  And as long as we figure out how to adjust for the higher evaporation rate in winter we’ll keep ending up with amazing beer.

Tomatoes, Endings and Beginnings

And finally, what would one of my lists be without a reference to tomatoes.  I’ve just cooked my last fresh tomatoes a couple of days ago. That’s right, tomatoes that I grew on my back deck that have been slowly ripening wrapped in newspaper in the months since they’ve been picked in the fall.  They were delicious.  And while that should make me sad, it is only a mere month and a half until I plant tomato seeds again.  In the meantime, I have cans of crushed tomatoes, homemade salsa, pizza sauce, and ketchup for the down-time in mid-winter.

What makes you happy about winter? 

Month Long Heatwave (and counting)

July was the hottest month on record for Ontario. While many parts of Canada have had to deal with lacklustre summer-weather, we’ve had the opposite. We’re just coming off the 6th heat alert of the season and on July 21st Toronto’s temperatures peaked at 37 C with a humidex making it feel like 51. This kind of heat isn’t always easy to deal with; it can be uncomfortable and sometimes even dangerous. But it is possible to coexist with it and I don’t mean just moving between air-conditioned spaces. There are lots of little things that Jim and I have started doing this summer that has made the heat easier to tolerate.

  • Windows and Fans: We’ve adopted an old fashioned approach to keeping our apartment cooler. Despite the heat during the days there have been very few nights where the temperate didn’t drop to at least the mid-20s. During the days we keep our windows and blinds closed. And at night we open them up and use a fan to blow the cooler air in. Using this approach means we’ve only had to turn our AC on a handful of times when the nightly temperature didn’t drop.
  • Summer Kitchen: We’ve pretty much stopped cooking inside. But that doesn’t mean that we’ve stopped cooking. Instead, cooking has moved to our back deck by using a barbeque and propane burner. Most of our canning will likely also take place outside this year, which seems like a much better place to have a large pot of boiling water.
  • Early Mornings: The coolest hour of the day is usually 5am and it isn’t a coincidence that it also happens to be around the same time that I run. Since I dislike indoors exercise more that waking up really early, I’ve made the adjustment. Outdoor activity is still possible later in the day, it is just a lot slower and sweatier.
  • Yogurt Pops: Cool and hydrating is a necessity for snacks. My favourite recipe is yogurt pops: 1 cup of in season fruit (berries or peaches usually), 1 cup of yogurt, and a tablespoon of honey mixed in a blender and frozen in pop moulds.

And in the spirit of John Horn’s positivity, here are a few reasons to love the steamy summer days in Ontario:

  1. Smog-less heat – it seams that despite all the heat there really haven’t been that many days where air quality has been an issue (not like a few years ago). I suggest it likely has something to do with the Provincial government’s Green Energy Act and closing coal fired power plants. Regardless, the heat and humidity are a lot easier to take when it isn’t also asthma inducing.
  2. Greenhouse growing conditions – there is very little diversity in my container garden (unless 12 different varieties of tomato plants count as diversity). But the tomatoes, jalapeno peppers and basil that I do grow are thriving in the heat and humidity, which is basically a replication of the conditions found in greenhouses elsewhere.
  3. Siestas – who doesn’t like a good excuse to nap, even if it is heat induced? While my working days are powered by Markham District Energy’s distributed cooling system (basically a community sharing AC), my weekends aren’t and as a result I’ve started to enjoy the occasional nap to get through the worst of the heat.

 

Run Like a …Girl?

For the three of you reading this who don’t personally know me and haven’t heard my insufferable whining over the past 12 weeks: I dedicated the summer of 2010 to rigours of marathon training.

Come October 17th, I will line up alongside 19,999 other certifiable lunatics and run 42 kilometers around the fair city of San Francisco, in an effort to … well, just not die, really.

To the victors go the spoils.

Beyond the elements that typically get me across a finish line, such as a genuine love for running and sweet, merciful endorphins, this marathon will close with a necklace.

From Tiffany’s.

Presented by a fireman.

In a tuxedo.

I have sagely elected to run the Nike Women’s Marathon.

The race is perhaps the best-known iteration of a new trend in running that targets women, and women only. It is notorious for its tough-but-stunning course and jubilant vibe, and has proven so popular that women-only races are popping up all over North America. While men are not prohibited from running these races, they are not exactly welcomed with open arms.

A recent article in The Globe and Mail (“Dude, you can run but you’d better not win”, September 22, 2010) explores the experiences of a handful of men who have run the Nike Women’s Half Marathon and the Disney Princess Half Marathon. They recall being glared at by other runners, heckled by the crowd, and ignored by announcers when crossing the finish line.

They also recount feelings of awkwardness and embarrassment, especially when receiving their finishing medals from the aforementioned firemen.

Um, dudes? The name of the race has the word “Princess” in it.

Though of course it’s not as simple as semantics.

Not the author. Photo courtesy of www.runlikeadiva.com

In many ways, women-only environments for exploring health and fitness are extremely important. Karen Butler, long time Vancouver runner and co-owner of Forerunners, explains the intimidation factor: “Some of the women who run these races are running a 4 hour half marathon [an average finish is generally around 2 hours and 15 minutes], and it’s unlikely that they would ever enter a more competitive, co-ed race. These events are lots of fun, low-pressure, and encourage female comradarie.”

Indeed, in a world where men continue to dominate most athletic fields, and where women are sexualized by the media in practically every environment imaginable, it makes sense to offer a haven from judgment that encourages activity. Be it in a gym or at a road race, everyone has a right to feel comfortable and supported while being active.

Including men.

I won’t deny that the idea of a Tiffany’s necklace as opposed to a clunky finishing medal is appealing, and I love regaling anyone who will listen with the details of my race. I find it funny because it’s such an overblown and ultra simplified version of what women like.

Unfortunately, some of these races are heading in a direction that both alienates men and trivializes women’s participation in the sport.

In the same Globe and Mail article, Robert Pozo, organizer of the Run Like a Diva race series, offers his insight into women-only races: “You take out the testosterone and these races are kinder, cleaner, gentler and sweeter.”

Wait, what?

When it comes to apparel, tutus are light-weight and ideal for water resistance, but often lead to chafing. Photo courtesy of mydisneymarathon.com/princess.

I have trained in co-ed clinics and run co-ed races for years, and have witnessed nothing to indicate that the removal of “testosterone” would make for a more supportive environment. The individuals I’m lucky enough to train with have impressed me time and again with their caring and kindness. Indeed, my (gender-balanced!) running group is one of my very favorite communities in Vancouver.

I also train with a lot of women who are fierce about their sport, and rightly so. I’m not sure I’ve mentioned this, but long-distance running is hard work. Like, really hard work. Whether you’re running 42 kilometers in 5 hours or two-and-a-half, you’re still running 42 kilometers. So pardon me for having little interest in being clean and gentle while doing so.

Jerry Ziak, an inspiring 2:17 marathoner who just happens to be my coach, puts it best: “To say that women’s races are ‘kinder, cleaner, gentler, and sweeter’ seems like we are still trying to put women into a box that puts limits on what is allowed or appropriate. What is a women supposed to think if she reads this before going in one of these races, that she’s not allowed to grimace, sweat, spit or compete in a way that goes against their ‘sweet’ natures?”

"Shine like a Diva with the most unique race medal: It's got bling, it spins, and it even has a spot for your picture, too!" Photo and text courtesy of www.runlikeadiva.com

Run Like a Diva is hosting its inaugural Diva Run in four short days, and the blindingly pink website touts it as a Celebration of Womanhood. Event highlights include tiara and feather boa stops throughout (who needs all of those superfluous water stations?!), an ageless category (“for those keeping the secret”), and roses, tiaras and champagne (“to make you feel pretty and strong”).

Pozo explains, “We’re making this race so girly that men won’t want any part of it.”

Well, Mr. Pozo, in the spirit of building strong, supportive, gender-neutral running communities: I’m with the men on this one.

Kendra Reddy – Blueprints and Strategies!

Who are you?

Kendra Reddy. Passionate about empowering and motivating myself and others to own and be proud of who we are, while continuing to challenge and stretch ourselves (and each other) to grow and learn – both personally and professionally. I am driving my own existence and I am always looking for opportunities to help others drive theirs. I believe that everything we ever want in life is just outside of our comfort zones. Let’s go for it!

I am a career consultant who has a lot to say about a lot of things, including talent and career management, attraction, engagement, and retention strategies, social media, and personal branding. I am an advocate for Gen X & Y, and am missing the gene that says “thou shalt dread public speaking”. Pass me my soapbox and microphone please.

I believe in authenticity, action, integrity, and trust. I try to be an all around good person who lives by the Platinum Rule: treat

others as they want to be treated. I have a bit of a looney-bird sense of humour, and if anyone is going to crack a one-liner or laugh out loud (and loudly)…it’s probably me. *insert big grin here*

What do you do for fun?

Right now, I am training to run my first half marathon. Believe it or not, learning to run 21 km is actually fun. Honestly.

I love to throw parties, feed people, and introduce good people to good people. I love the culture and buzz of big cities and I try to spend as much time as possible in NYC (I’m running my half marathon there). I rollerskate and bike ride, and am always on the hunt for a good music remix or re-edit. The other joy in my life is taking my mini-da

schund to the park to watch him chase squirrels. Have you ever seen a wiener dog run? Hilarious.

What is your favourite community and why?

My neighbourhood is the St.Lawrence Market area in Toronto and I love it because it is a shining example of a blended society. It combines all incomes, ages, family units, ethnicities, and pets together seamlessly without judgment or division. Everyone takes pride in our community and treats each other with respect and courtesy. On one block you will see co-op housing next to a high end furniture store, next to a neighbourhood pub, next to a community centre that the entire community uses. True diversity.

What is your superpower?

My superpower is linguistics (aka The Gift of Gab). I also have the ability to move and multi-task incredibly fast.

How do you use it to build community?

I help people by facilitating conversation and giving others the language and confidence they need to connect with others. Whether it’s helping people understand how to articulate who they are, what they do best, what they want to do next, or more of; I enjoy seeing people become comfortable sharing their “stories” with each other and building genuine relationships on all levels.

My quick thinking and acting nature allows me to help people create a strategy and then execute it. In plain English this translates into “set ‘em up, and knock ‘em down”.  A vision without a plan can turn into an hallucination, and a plan without action can turn into paralysis. I try to use my energy, enthusiasm, and penchant for checking of boxes to help others achieve the results they aim for.

My Three Favourite Things about Kendra are…

1. Gift of the Gab. Not only is Kendra a talker, but she’s a great talker. And, being a talker myself, it was incredibly easy to find an immediate connection with this masterful storyteller.

2. Polite Persistence. This is a necessary skill in the world of business and, especially, consulting. I can tell that Kendra is a woman who gets what she wants because she possesses the unique combination of unflappable kindness and confident assertiveness. People just want to be a part of her world.

3. Maximizing. Through Blueprint Strategies, Kendra makes people better. She can take a group or an individual that is doing just fine and make them powerful performers. And that’s a beautiful thing!

The lonely community of winter runners

Winter Runners - Wayne MacPhail Photo

During the summer months the sidewalks and pathways of Toronto are chock-full of runners, bikers, dog walkers and strollers. During a long summer run I can pass hundreds of people with out a single interaction. Come January, this changes dramatically, as most people avoid the outside world and the city’s pathways empty of people. Instead of seeing dozens of fellow runners on a long weekend training run, I now pass four or five.   Those of us who keep running outdoors through the winter months are branded as crazy by many of our fellow Torontonians.  I know this, as until last year I was among these naysayers.  I grew up in White Rock, BC, and the thought of running in the painfully cold winter here in Toronto never appealed to me  until I started training for an early spring half-marathon in Waterloo last year.

Having started running last winter, I soon found the ostracization, combined with a collective sense of superiority, creates an interesting bond amongst winter runners.  All of a sudden, after the first major snow fall or cold snap of the year, we start exchanging waves as we pass each other on the street.  It seems like a fairly universal instinct, as I rarely pass a runner, even if they are some distance away on the other side of a street without receiving a wave. Come spring this yearly ritual will melt away with the snow and I’ll go back to my normal big city ways of avoiding contact with the multitude of strangers I pass on the street. Clearly this is not a deep sense of community as the interactions are brief, but it is still fairly significant.  In my experence of small town Canada, people wave to friends and strangers as they pass by on the street, while in big cities we often avoid even this very basic form of interaction – so it’s nice to bring it back, even in this limited seasonal fashion.

All with this small town community feeling provided by winter running there are a lot of other benefits.  A winter running outfit costs a lot less than gym fees or treadmills.  Running creates enough heat which allows you to spend a lot more time outdoors during the winter than you otherwise might.  I find this helps alleviate cabin fever and mild cases of seasonal depression disorder.  Plus there are a slew of great long distance races in the Spring to help motivate you out the door during the darkest evenings of winter.  North America’s oldest road race, the Around the Bay 30KM, stared three years before the Boston Marathon, way back in 1894 and now runs in late March to avoid conflicts with cargo ships entering the harbour.  For those on the West Cost the Vancouver Marathon and Half-Marathon takes place on in early May. Either of these races promises amazing views (of heavy industry or English Bay and lovely mountains).

Ben Lawson Photo

Around the Bay - Ben Lawson Photo

Do you know of other ways that cold or wet winter weather creates bonds between strangers or fosters a sense of community in the cities or towns that you live in?  Anyone reading this brave enough to cycle through the winter or run in significantly colder regions of Canada? I deeply admire the cyclist that continue to commute to work all winter long, but I’m fairly certain my ride to York University Finch Ave is dangerous enough in the summer, so I’ve not yet joined their ranks.  I can only imagine the intense feelings of superiority among winter runners in Edmonton or White Horse, but maybe the community dwindles down so low that you never pass fellow runners on the streets.  Do winter runner in Vancouver have a bond, or do your mild winters prevent it from developing?