By Shawna Lewkowitz
The lessons learned while being active are ones we can use in every part of our lives. My own journey of running and doing yoga taught me plenty and served me well for when I decided to leap into a whole different kind of running, as the NDP candidate for London West in the Federal Election.
For years I was a regular runner but like many, I didn’t come to running until later in life and it took me a while to see myself as a “real” runner, whatever that is supposed to mean. I made my way from 5ks to 10ks to half marathons, always believing marathons were out of reach for me – meant for the actual real runners. People who were of course more athletic and capable than I was.
As you can imagine, the decision to run in the election wasn’t a simple one either. I’d asked and supported many women to run and founded a local organization, Women & Politics to support them when they did. But for many reasons, when previously asked to run, I’d always said no.
This time was different. I still went through the cycle of questions: Am I really the right person to do this? Do I have the grit to make it through the inevitable criticism, long days and hours of campaigning? How will I make this work with all the other responsibilities in my life? What will the impact be on my family? And most of all, do I really want this? Questions that were similar to the ones I’ve asked myself in other situations.
Before doing marathons, I wasn’t sure I was capable of running 42.2 kms or perhaps more pointedly, doing the training to run 42.2 kms. Before doing yoga regularly, I didn’t think I was capable of a daily yoga practice. I eventually learned that like everyone, I am always capable of more than I think I am and that big challenges usually excite us and terrify us in equal measure. So, after lots of conversations, soul searching and contemplation, I took the leap and said yes to being a candidate.
Running and yoga proved to be great teachers for an election. During the actual campaign period, the days were long and extremely intense. Twelve hour days or longer, with at least half of that spent out door knocking were the norm. I consistently woke up tired. But just like training for running, I put on my shoes and headed out the door. There was no “if” about it, I just did what needed to be done.
But none of us do anything truly on our own. When I was training for marathons I did so alongside a supportive running community and encouraging friends and family. In my daily yoga challenge, I had a consistent online group of like-minded yogis. For my election run, I had an amazing campaign team working with me and an incredible partner and two teenage daughters who all who took on the bulk of our family responsibilities. They made it easy for me to focus on what I needed to do.
I treated the pre-campaign period before the election was officially called, as my “base training”. We were door knocking and listening to people all summer long. The time spent walking and listening for those months laid the foundation for the six-week election period (the marathon). Not only the intense physical requirement of campaigning but also the intellectual and emotional considerations of being “on” and in tune with people’s needs.
My many years of doing yoga, brought a calm and clarity to the emotional experience of campaigning. People shared really hard stories at the door and they trusted us to do something about the issues they were facing. At times it was overwhelming – the pain and struggle people live with is real. When overwhelmed by the immensity of it all, I would go back to focusing on being present, listening and offering up a platform that I absolutely believed in.
There were also the inevitable negative reactions at the door. Misogynistic comments about my appearance, my obvious feminism and my stance on gender issues. Men who would argue with me just for the sake of arguing, who would slam doors in my face and call me names. People who would make racist or homophobic comments to volunteers. But honestly these interactions were minimal compared to the positives experienced at the door.
There will always be people who think we aren’t capable of accomplishing our goals – exercise, work or personal wise. They will put real and imagined obstacles in our way. The key is to see them for what they are and to stay focused on what we set out to do. The hate only drove me to push harder and as a runner, I know how to push hard.
I did ultimately end up losing the election, but we ran a campaign I can say I am really proud of and I have absolutely no regrets about running. I’ve trained for races I couldn’t complete before. I know what it feels like to put your heart and soul into something and have it turn out differently than you hoped. But it doesn’t make the journey any less worthwhile and if anything, it prepares us even better for the next time we show up at the starting line.
The lessons learned through being active have relevance to all areas of our lives. It is one of the many reasons we lace up our shoes, get on our mats, bring out our bikes, show up for that game, make time for that walk – we know the value is in more than just the moment. That our commitment to moving more, and reaching our goals helps us to do more, cope better and feel healthy in all areas of our lives.
Shawna is an instructor and community-based learning coordinator in Social Justice and Peace Studies at King’s University College, founder of Women & Politics, and the past Federal NDP Candidate for London West. She does all kinds of active things that feed her soul but her favourite is getting lost in the woods with the people she loves.