fitness · illness · monthly check in

Sam made it through November

I mean, of course I did? But it always feels like a struggle and a bit of accomplishment once I get to the other side.

It’s the grey and the dark of November that gets me. It’s short days and not yet winter.

But look here we are, December, and it’s starting to look like the holidays. We have a little snow, just enough to be decorative and I love all the Christmas lights on the houses.

I feel like I slept through November this year. I was sick for most of it, so sick and it just went on and on. I got sick at the end of October and didn’t get better until November was just about over. I emerged from the flu and some sort of bronchial infection only to get covid. Thanks to paxlovid I was back at work at the end of the month but still sleeping lots. Don’t worry. I rest when I need to.

Here’s proof from my Garmin:

Things I succeeded in doing in November despite being sick and sleeping a lot. I did, as I set out to do, try some new things at the gym. I went to Zumba and Sarah, and I gave bedtime hot yin yoga a go. I’m still on track to make my 400 workouts in 2023 goal thanks mostly to physio, personal training, and dog walks. I’m at 370, so if I move every day in December, and I will, so I’m good. I also read a lot.

Things I didn’t do in November? Ride my bike. I got a few virtual rides in, but that kind of exertion is still bringing on coughing fits, so no. I feel bad about not meeting my 150 km in November to raise money for the Canadian Cancer Society, but as a few friends pointed out, these goals are arbitrary. Sick me just wasn’t up to it, and that’s okay.

Plans for December? We’ve got family visiting from Australia and I’m excited about that. I’m really hoping there’s snow for them. I want to slowly start riding again. In fact, I’m on the trainer this morning for the Herd’s 45 minute Monday Morning Coffee ride.

Sarah and I are going to keep up the bedtime hot yoga. That just feels too good to miss.

There’s lots of dog walks in the snow to look forward to. Depending on snow, we might even get the fat bikes out.

Add in some Zumba and some weightlifting at the gym and December could be a pretty fun, active month.

I’m also cooking this year for twelve people. My mum will make a turkey but I’m in charge of the vegetarians. I’m up for trying something new.

What’s your fave vegetarian main at Christmas time?

Goodbye November
dogs · fitness · illness · walking

Sam is learning to move, but move gently, when sick

I’ve been sick for awhile now. I worked from home October 16th, and went to the doctor’s for the first time October 20th. I wrote about emerging from the lurgy on the 23rd but clearly that was premature.

Since then I’ve been back to the doctor’s office twice. I’ve had two sets of chest x-rays.

It’s a bronchial thing, post-viral, and best as they can tell, not pneumonia, but I have antibiotics and inhalers. I’ve been working from home at about 60% of my usual pace to allow for naps.

The last time I was sick with the persistent cough thing was 2017. I even blogged about it. Before that it was 2012 in New Zealand where Mallory and I shared a nasty cough for a month.

I’m good at being sick-sick like I actually rest, and I don’t try to work, but it’s more challenging when you’re getting better but not there yet. I’ve been thinking about this in the context of physical activity. With two newish knees, I don’t have the option of just working and resting; I also need to keep moving. I can’t really miss physio.

I’ve been trying to move, but slowly and gently. I’ve got the support of a terrific physiotherapist and personal trainer, who understand that I need to keep moving but preferably in a way that doesn’t bring on coughing fits.

Here’s what my workouts for last week (as recorded in the 223 workouts in 2023 group look like:

➡Physio at clinic

➡Dog walk

➡Home from work still recovering from this post viral, bronchial infection, but forgot to cancel personal training. Went and we did a gentle hour of mobility work and lighter weights and lots of stretching. I will nap this afternoon but it did feel good to move.

➡At home physio

➡Dog walk

➡Zwift, gentle 20 km

I’m sleeping more than usual. And walking less. Here’s my Garmin report on the last seven days.

You might wonder what the stress level number means. Here’s the breakdown: 0–25: Resting state ; 26–50: Low stress ; 51–75: Medium stress ; 76–100: High stress.

So, an average of 26 is a pretty low stress. Thanks to the College’s two associate deans for helping with the stressful stuff.

Today I finally started to feel more like myself. I’m coughing less and the sun was shining.

Cheddar was happy to have a long walk.

A sunny day dog walk

I’m back in the office this week. Wish me luck!

fitness · health · illness

Five lessons Catherine (re)learned about recovering from sickness

One would think, 3.5 years after the COVID pandemic hit it big on planet Earth, we would have figured out how to live in the world while a) being sick; and b) recovering from being sick. But we haven’t. We really haven’t.

About a week after Sam came down with “the dreaded lurgy” I got it, too. Nothing novel, just an awful conglomeration of coughing, congestion, fever, queasiness, lower GI symptoms, body ache, wheezing. I was in bed, unable to do anything for several days. This gets me to lesson one I learned this week:

Just cancel work. All the work. Don’t try to Zoom or email your way through it. Cancel. Call in/out sick. Because you are sick.

I learned this the hard way. Monday I tried teaching a 2.5 hour in-person freshman class over Zoom. This is not easy under optimal conditions, and my conditions were far from optimal. I played a TED talk, did some small group discussion, coughed a lot, and called it a day an hour and a half in.

Monday night, still having not learned, I planned to teach logic over Zoom Tuesday afternoon and emailed my class. By 4:30 Tuesday morning, my tune had changed– a mash-up of Chopin’s Funeral March and Johnny Paycheck’s Take this job and shove it. So I called in/out and canceled class.

By the way, I looked up calling in vs calling out sick. Here’s the latest:

A US poll showing 48% of the surveyed used “calling in” vs. 22% using “calling out”, with 19% using either and 11% not having any idea what you’re talking about.

Incorporating all the information gleaned from not following lesson one takes us to lesson two:

Being sick and getting better are going to take longer than you expect, even if you already know that and have factored in extra time.

This lesson is a variation on what’s called Hofstadter’s Law, which says a project always takes longer to complete than expected, even when the law is taken into account. No matter what we do, the complexities of real-life living throw spanners into the works of our finely tuned plans. So we (meaning me, this week) would do well to remember that sickness and recovery timetables are not really under our control.

Wednesday brought a bit of an upswing and the glimmer of recovery. I did some work at home and it went well. By Thursday, I really expected that I woulda/shoulda be well enough to get in my car, drive to school and teach my afternoon classes. I mean, I felt sort-of-less-bad on Wednesday. Doesn’t that dictate that I be sort-of-okay by Thursday? Uh, lesson three has news for me:

Sickness and recovery are not linear. They’re going to go up and down and all around.

If you google “recovery is not linear” you’ll get a huge number of hits and graphics, all trying to convey how unpredictable all of our patterns of change and adjustment are, in mental health and physical health and all their permutations. It’s crucial to our well-being that we recognize that the short and the long processes, the less taxing and the life-changing, all of them proceed in ways that aren’t about steady improvement, day after day. Nope. Many of you have seen graphs like the one below, but it bears demonstrating again.

A graph showing the road to recovery– a diagonal line is what we think it looks like, but what it really looks like is loopy loops going every which way.

Maybe this is particular to me, but just in case it’s meaningful for you, here’s lesson four:

Always have extra tissues and cough drops on hand. Don’t run out. Ever.

Two 10-packs of kleenex brand tissue boxes. Now that’s what I’m talking about.

Lesson five isn’t really something I’ve learned this week, but rather something I keep relearning through my meditation practice. But, it applies here (as everything in meditation applies to everything else in the world):

Whatever you’re going through is going to change. It won’t be the same tomorrow, the next day, and so on.

This is neither good nor bad; it’s just the way things are. It’s infuriating sometimes– this unpredictability. I mean, I oughta be able to know what’s coming and when. Well:

Why, you may wonder, did I take all the trouble to write up these no-news lessons about getting better from being sick while I’m sick and getting better? Because however many times I remember them, I seem to forget them again. So, in case you’re feeling a little tickle in your throat, I can save you some valuable time and extra emails. Oh, and don’t forget to buy kleenex.

How’s everybody feeling out there? Lemme know. I’m thinking about you.

covid19 · fitness · illness

Sam emerges from the lurgy

Well, it’s been a week.

So far this year my dedication to physio and regular daily exercise as part of my return to fitness has surpassed even my own expectations. Usually I plan more and don’t do it all (with zero guilt). But this year I’ve done a lot. In the 223 for 2023 group I was at 326 episodes of intentional physical movement last week. I met the 223 goal sometime this summer. There’s a story behind that–knee surgery, knee physio, and serious commitment to rehab and rebuilding fitness–but it all came to a grinding halt last week with the dreaded lurgy. (Shoutout to my father who taught me that wonderful expression, a favourite of his.)

So yes readers, I got sick! Weirdly it’s been years since I’ve been sick. Two knee replacement surgeries and one round of mild COVID-19 in the early omicron days have been it for a few years. I don’t like this getting sick thing. I was fevered, pukey, headachey, sore throaty and cough flavoured sick. The doctor asked which symptoms I had. I said all of them. She laughed. I haven’t tested positive for covid and I’ve been testing each day for 6 days as I write this on the weekend. I know, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t covid. I just know it’s some kind of not-very-nice virus. I went quickly from ‘maybe I should work from home today’ early in the week to “huh, I guess I won’t be working from anywhere.” I hit the bed and stayed there for days.

I wasn’t well enough to even watch fluffy television. I just slept. I didn’t eat–aside from the odd slice of toast and cup of tea–and I drank water if someone reminded me.

When I finally left the house to go to the doctor Friday it felt like a major athletic achievement. I was stiff and sore for not moving for days–especially my knees. I was light headed and woozy walking around.

And it wasn’t even time off work for three of the days. Instead, it was the worst option–CANCELLED VACATION.

Sarah, Cheddar, and I were supposed to be staying in a dog friendly OTENTik in Point Pelee National Park.

Like this:


After that I missed attending the Ontario Universities Fair with my team from the College of Arts at Guelph on Saturday. I gave away Saturday night tickets to see Wild Woman at Soul Pepper. Hope it was good Susan!

Finally, I got out for a short dog walk. It was just 1.5 km but you bet I counted it as a workout. I might even have napped after!

Sam emerges and goes for a walk with Sarah and 3 dogs

I’ll get back to it next week, slowly.

You too Catherine, take it easy friend. Why yes, I’m the second sick blogger this week.

In the meantime, thanks to all the people at work who stepped in and thanks to Sarah and mum at home who’ve kept an eye on me.

death · Fear · health · illness · mindfulness

Does a Diagnosis Change Who I Am?

Two months after an emergency visit to the hospital for 3 days (which I wrote about here), I’ve finally been diagnosed. I have Addison’s Disease. So, not enough for me to have a name for what ails me. It has to declare itself a disease. That causes a lot of dis-ease for me. There’s a strand of thinking that says we are empowered once we are diagnosed. Along the lines: Knowledge is power. Now you know what you’re dealing with. And that classic marketing tag line: If it can’t be measured, it can’t be managed. With a diagnosis, I’m in measurable territory. There’s a map. I can manage.

I should be relieved.

Instead, I feel defeated. I’m not yet able to accept that the price of staying alive is medication for the rest of my life. Before, when my condition was nameless, I could imagine it being easily solved by the integrative medicine protocol that I undertook with great optimism. In fact, the calculated risk I took in going off of the prescribed conventional medications did not, at least in the short term, work out. I had imagined myself proudly declaring to my medical doctors that I’d been off the medication and wasn’t my healing capacity amazing. Instead, I ended up with blood work results that clearly indicated my body spiraling toward another emergency visit. I could feel the deterioration happening. The exhaustion coming back. Instead of my smug satisfaction with the medical doctors, I was contrite, owning up to my infidelity to their recommendations. As the endocrinologist said, I can’t impress on you enough how important it is that you take these medications seriously, if you want to stay alive.

I do. Want to stay alive.

Most days.

My energy rebounded quickly after getting back to the recommended protocol. And, I feel ridiculously fragile. Death accompanies me everywhere. Sure, I know in that mindfulness way that, I could die at any moment. Now this consciousness is not about mindfulness, it’s the knowledge that if I stop putting these little pills in my body three times a day, then my heart will quit. Some days, I hold the pill in my hand and toy with the idea of not taking it, of letting nature take its course.

I wonder if my vitality even counts anymore. My energy is so much a part of my identity. If it’s not real, am I a fake? Who am I?  

I understand that the fact that I have not been on medication before now is a massive privilege. I was not nearly as aware of that privilege as I am now. I understand that what I write here risks triggering people already on medication. You have every right to think, Get over yourself.

I had distanced myself from the possibility of disease. That won’t happen to me, I thought. I took credit for my health; thought I deserved it. After all, I exercise, eat veggies, sleep, meditate … you know, all the things we’re supposed to do. Right? Then my adrenal system stopped functioning. For no discernible reason. Except … these last 18 months have been stressful—my 28-year marriage dissolved; I lost my financial security, my home, my mother, my cat; and now, the cherry on top, this business with my health. I’ve written about the mountain of grief here and the psychological toll of my financial insecurity here.  I haven’t even gotten to the perilous state of the world. 

A loud inner critic attacks me: You failed to manage your stress. This disease is all your fault. More. You deserve this disease, because you have not had adequate empathy for others’ illness, because you were so cossetted in your healthy person privilege. You have brought this on yourself with your hubris, with every time you’ve answered a health questionnaire with the word robust to describe your health. The critic could go on at much greater length, but you get the picture.

A friend of mine, who was trying to be helpful, recently told me that I just needed to shift the narrative in my head. She tried to reassure me by saying that everything happens for a good reason, that there’s always a silver lining and that I need only put a different spin on the events unfolding. My inner critic was delighted to be so affirmed. See, she said, your fault. Oof. I get that my friend and my inner critic have good intentions. They fear that I’ve lost my belief in myself and they want me to pull up my socks. I want to pull up my socks. There’s nothing more annoying than a falling down sock that pesters the foot. Yet, sometimes I just want a caring human to sit down beside me while I take off my shoe and look at my sock and bemoan it’s falling down-ness, as if I were a character in a play written by Samuel Beckett.

At the same time, I actually do want to put one foot in front of the other and I know that will be easier with functional socks. So, even as I still crave the accompaniment and patience of another human, I’ve come up with a sock-friendly narrative I am working on adopting. New narratives don’t happen in a minute.

Here it is: Everything that’s happened in my life, just happened. Not for a good reason. Not with a silver lining. I am grateful to Thomas Moore, the author of Dark Nights of the Soul, for his clear-eyed book, in which he spoke with many people who had been through serious ordeals. Although they had all learned from their challenges, they did not say they wouldn’t have it any other way, or that they were grateful to their ordeal for having awoken them from their slumber. Instead, they said, in more eloquent words than the ones that follow, what happened sucked, I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, and, despite the bad hand I was dealt, I made the decision to grow from the experience and not to fold beneath its weight. The book gave me permission to feel all my grief and rage. Life will serve lemons. We have the right to gnash our teeth and wail or not get out of bed or whatever we need to do to honor and embody the ordeal. What doesn’t serve us is to resist the dark feelings that come with the dark nights. And, the and is key, we then have a choice about how we want to alchemize the lemons we’ve been served. We can bypass and add lots of sugar, hoping to hide the bitter. Or we can make bracing fresh lemonade that cleanses our system.

What is, is. I can either fight against what is, or I can work with it. Some years ago, I had the word compassion tattooed on my arm. It was supposed to remind me to have compassion for others and, crucially, for myself. This ordeal has brought me face to face with the compassion gap caused by the unconscious bias of my previous privilege. My inner critic screams into the gap, provoking an echo response from the canyon walls inside my head. The lemonade opportunity in all this is compassion. So simple. And so not. A super tall, skyscraper of an order.

I have the beginning of a to-do list for this new narrative: I need to begin with a hand outstretched to my critic. After all, compassion, like most things, starts at home. She is working hard to keep me upright and aware. I want, too, to create more ritual around taking my pills, to honor the fact that every time I take one, it’s a conscious choice to live. My friend Lori, who is a Reiki Master, suggested that I infuse my pills with the energy of Reiki and bring to them the intention of receiving their grace into my body as pure light and healing. I had a sudden flash of, Oh, that’s what my levels 1 & 2 Reiki certifications are for. More compassion put into practice.

The last thing that I’ve come up with so far, is to be compassionate with the critic and with all the other voices in my head who are having a hard time: The anxious part of myself, who trembles faced with all the unknowns in my life right now. The grieving part. The demotivated part. All of them.

Just as I long for someone to sit beside me and my falling down sock, I will sit beside my critic and my anxiety and my grief. After all, they are friends who need my support. Earlier in this piece, I wondered who I am and whether my diagnosis changed the answer. I’ve found my way here to several answers. First, I am the same person, with many different, sometimes conflicting and hopefully evolving characteristics. Another answer is aspirational, I want to be a person who sits beside others. And I’ll start with myself.


covid19 · fitness · health · illness

Taking Sam’s advice when she was sick 10 years ago

In this #TBT post, I look back to what was happening with FIFI in 2013, the year the blog started.

In her March 23, 2013 post, Back after it after almost a month away: Rebuilding after illness, @samanthabrennan describes what happened when she got “a very nasty virus” that stopped her from exercising for nearly a month. She reports experiencing many bad symptoms: the worst was a “wracking cough” that kept her up all night. It’s tough on the body to be sick for so long, and it can negatively affect one’s spirits as well.

Ten years ago, Sam gave herself some motivational advice to help her get back to her activities: Aikido, soccer, CrossFit, rowing, riding, running, and swimming. Here’s a summary of the Sam-to-Sam pep talk:

  • Misery loves company (my expression, not hers): Sam notes that she will be no less further along than everyone else who has struggled to keep up exercising over the long, cold winter in Canada.
  • Baby Steps: Sam tells herself to take small steps and work out with others who may be in a similar situation.
  • Acceptance: Sam suggests checking her ego to help her to accept any nervousness she may be feeling.
  • Enjoyment: Sam has missed out, and she knows it will be good to return what makes her happy.
  • Focus on the good: Sam says that nutrition and on eating intuitively can be a productive focus as she rebuilds her strength.

At the time that Sam was recovering from her illness, she could not have predicted that, ten years later, millions of people around the world would have to rebuild their strength and their spirits after facing COVID-19 and other related viral illnesses.

This includes me. I’ve been sick with more than one viral infection for nearly three weeks, and although I’m recovering it’s had me feeling down.

So, I decided to apply Sam’s ten year-old advice pre-COVID advice to my current situation.

  • Same boat: I’ve heard of lots of folks who have been out sick for a long time these days. Although I feel like this illness will go on forever, others have struggled too and come out the other side. So will I.
  • Treadmill baby steps: I can capitalize on feeling better than I did last week by doing daily stretching, yoga, and some short treadmill walks before I re-join the world. (Also, I should really clean my home.)
  • Accept…and appreciate: Even when I’m healthy it’s hard to accept my skill levels, but there’s nothing like getting sick to help appreciate what it’s like doing stuff while illness-free.
  • My teams: I’ve played two team sports this winter, curling and soccer. I’ve missed seeing my teammates in both leagues, and the season is not yet over, so hopefully soon I will re-join them.
  • Tasting things: Like Sam, I haven’t been eating well while sick. Trying to get back to regular meals and healthier snacks will be good. Being able to taste things again will be even better.

Overall, I find Sam’s advice (to herself) reassuring for getting over an illness. Looking back has helped me to think more positively about moving forward!

fitness · health · illness

Easing back to ‘normal’

…or at least normal for me. 😉

After spending the better part of two weeks dealing with Covid, I am finally feeling mostly like myself.

I missed two weeks of Taekwondo, missed lots of walks with Khalee (I didn’t miss two full weeks of walks, those are easier to scale to my current energy levels) and kept my yoga mat rolled in the corner.

I really missed my usual activities. Aside from my enjoyment of the movements themselves, I missed the shape that yoga and walks give my days and the shape that TKD give my weeks. Without those things, my last two weeks have had a ‘stepped out of the normal flow of time’ kind of feeling.

A GIF of two characters from Doctor Who saying ‘Wibbley-wobblye timey-wimey. Misspellings are in the original.
(Yes, I know wobbly is misspelled) A GIF from the BBC show Doctor Who in which two character are saying ‘Wibbley-wobblye timey-wimey’ to each other.

This time last week, I had to sit down after putting in a load of laundry (there are two flights of stairs involved) and trying to do even gentle yoga left me feeling not quite dizzy but definitely disoriented.

And aside from the physiological evidence that I needed to take it easy, I also have read (and heard evidence from friends) that pushing yourself too hard when you are recovering from Covid can lead to complications.

Today though (I am writing this on Monday), I did a little gentle yoga and my walk with Khalee, while somewhat short, didn’t leave me feeling worn.

In fact, the movement in both cases felt GOOD instead of being mostly tiring.

I’m taking that as a good sign that my recovery is on track and that I am easing back to my regular life.

I’m still going to rest when I can and pay close attention in case things get to be too much for me but I’m glad to be stepping back into *my* normal flow of time.

A GIF of a person making air quotes while saying the word ‘Normal’
A GIF of a person with white hair and glasses, wearing a dark pink sweater and a flowered scarf saying the word normal while making air quotes with their fingers.

advice · fitness · illness · rest · self care

A short post about not very much

I’m writing this on Monday night.

I’ve spent the day feeling under the weather (and appropriately it has been very VERY rainy) and trying to sort my to do list into:

– things that I feel up to doing today

-things that must be done today (by me or by someone else)

-things that can most definitely wait

-other stuff

Resting, very low-key yoga, and an online meeting made the cut…a lot of other things did not.

I can’t, however, tell you how I decided which was which. (It’s not a secret, I just have no idea!)

How do you decide how much rest you need when you don’t feel well?

How do you decide what stays on your to do list and what you can let slide?

PS – Here’s a useful reminder I drew a few years ago. You don’t even need to feel sick to take it to heart.

A photo of a small square card on a patio railing. The card has been painted yellow and has dark blue lines extending outward from the centre to create the impression of a top-down view of a flower. ​Blue text on the drawing reads “you don’t have to be and do all of the things. Choose the ones that feel right, the ones you know are yours. (That’s enough)”
Image description: a small square card on a patio railing. The card has been painted yellow and has dark blue lines extending outward from the centre to create the impression of a top-down view of a flower. Blue text on the drawing reads “you don’t have to be and do all of the things. Choose the ones that feel right, the ones you know are yours. (That’s enough)”

cycling · fitness · illness

Back on the bike after a stroke (Guest post)

It’s Saturday morning in late September. I’m sitting in one of my favourite coffee shops enjoying a latte and trying to get the chill out of my bones. I decided to bike here this morning, despite the thermometer reading eight degrees. I love Ottawa in the fall: it’s one of my favourite times of year. The leaves are turning on the trees, but the Parkway is still reserved for cyclists on the weekends, which makes for some breathtaking rides. The Parkway hugs the Ottawa River, so it’s not unusual to run into hordes of Canada geese as you bike down the west-bound lanes. When the cars are away, everybody gets bolder, including the wildlife.

I’ve been a cyclist most of my life and in my twenties it was my main form of transport. A friend once described cycling as the closest humans every get to actual flight, and I agree. But I had an accident on my bike about a decade ago that left me fearful of climbing back on. While I still cycled every so often, I lost the joy I had had before my accident.

Then about six years ago I took the leap and bought a new bike: a bright red electric bike modeled after the wide-handled cruisers of the fifties that appealed to both my love of two wheels and my personal aesthetic. To my deep pleasure I rediscovered the joy of pedalling along the many bike paths this city offers. I could ride to work almost exclusively on paths. The five-kilometre trip was a pleasure every time and I resisted getting back on the bus until early December.

But last year in the late fall, I had a stroke. Hospitalized for the first time in my life, I spent two weeks answering every person who asked me, “What is your goal for recovery?” that what I wanted most of all was to get back on my bike. I didn’t know that this was a very unlikely and lofty goal. When you’ve had a stroke, people treat you like you’re not entirely compos mentis (which of course you’re not) and they don’t try to nay-say you. If I wanted to get back on my bike, nobody was going to tell me it was very unlikely.

But the first week I was back home, I climbed up on my stationary bike, which I had bought just before the pandemic hit in order to keep my biking muscles in good shape over the winter. I lasted five minutes. It wasn’t just the challenge of biking – even the act of getting on and off my bike was hard. I wobbled. I tripped. I cried a little. And I persisted. By January, I was on my stationary bike three times a week for 20 minutes. By March, that was four to five times a week for 30 minutes.

Then, at the suggestion of my massage therapist, I started upping the difficulty by twisting my upper body as I pedalled. Then I added hand weights. Then I closed my eyes, which forced me to try to balance more carefully.

In April, Big Red, my beautiful bike, came up from storage in the basement. In early May, I attempted my first ride on a real bike. It was a mere six kilometres over 30 minutes, but I wept with relief at the end of it. I had not fallen. I had not had to stop.

My balance was still shaky: getting on and off Big Red was not easy for me. If it had not been for the throttle that permitted me to get started without pedalling and let me catch my balance as I took off, I do not think this would have been possible.

The Ottawa River is seen through a copse of tress. In the foreground sits a red comfort cruiser-style bike with a helmet hanging from the handlebars.
Hanging out in a hidden spot on the Ottawa River with Big Red

Since that first ride, I have probably done 600 kilometres this summer. Weekends are my big ride, when the Parkway is open and I can pedal almost all the way to my coffee joint on a wide lane meant for cars, but I am on the bike paths several times each week. My Saturday rides are over 20 km.

I am stronger, better balanced and more confident on my bike. I have even survived a fall with relatively minor damage. But if it hadn’t been for the help having an e-bike gave me in the early days, I am not sure I would be back biking. Doctors and nurses have met the information that yes, I did get back on my bike with polite incredulity. And being back has helped me heal not only physically but mentally from the feeling of total incapacity I experienced last fall. I’m still here. I’m still pedalling.

I’m so grateful.

DJ Brown is a performer turned government wonk living and thriving in Ottawa.

charity · cycling · family · illness

Pedaling for Parkinson’s in Prince Edward County: Join us next year?

Parkinson’s Canada hosted “Pedal for Parkinson’s Prince Edward County” this past Saturday, a charity bike ride features a 40-km and 75-km option, starting and finishing at the North Marysburgh Town Hall.

Our team was called Susan’s Spinners– Sarah, Sarah’s Zwift ZSUN teammate Emily, and me. In the photo above we’re joined by Susan, a family member and occasional blogger at Fit is a Feminist Issue, who is also a cyclist and who has Parkinson’s.

Here’s a few words from the participants:


This year attending the Pedalling for Parkinson’s event in PEC was somewht bittersweet. I haven’t been on my bike for the past month due to a recent back injury, so didn’t want to chance riding.

I also missed my original team, the Rigid Riders (people with PD and their friends) as most were attending events supporting team captains Mike and Steve as they ride across Canada raising awareness and funds for Parkinson’s (

What made it a wonderful day though was that two members of my extended family, Samantha and Sarah, and Emily, a friend of theirs who I didn’t know, came together on short notice to form a team, Spinning for Susan, to bike and raise funds to support me and Parkinson Canada.

Recently I’ve thought the most important message a person with PD can hear is that they are not alone. I not only felt that profoundly but am happy that my team raised funds for Parkinson Canada to spread that message and to continue to support people with PD across the country.


It felt odd to be doing another charity bike ride so soon after the Friends for Life Bike Rally, but this is an important cause for our family. Susan and I have known each as friends since Grade 9 home economics and we’ve been family since I married her brother many years ago. I joke that Susan and I were friends first, back when he was the annoying older brother.

So Susan’s Parkinson’s diagnosis has hit the whole family. She’s been riding with a Parkinson’s group and in past years has ridden this charity ride. When it turned out that we could have the use of Sarah’s family farm in Prince Edward County that weekend, it all started to come together. Sarah and I would ride and Susan would come along for support and inspiration. She’s also a very generous donor to Parkinson’s research, giving enough so that Sarah and I both got jerseys! When Sarah’s teammate Emily, who lives in the county, agreed to come along, we had a happy trio of riders. I’m struggling a bit with speed these days so I was happy to have a chatty, scenic social ride for a very excellent and important cause.


I didn’t even know the event was taking place until 48 hours ahead of time when Sarah invited me to join in. Since I’m training for a 150km ride in September, and live in the neighbourhood, it sounded like a great opportunity to find some company for a long ride.

As I signed up online felt a pang of guilt, however. They were asking for a minimum fundraising commitment of $250. The ride was in just over 24 hours… “Nothing to lose,’ I thought, and made my own donation to get the ball rolling. Four of my friends and relatives jumped at the chance to donate. In less than 24 hours I was above the threshold. Guilt assuaged.

So happy that I went. I not only managed to raise a little for a really good cause, I got to meet the wonderful Susan, for whom we rode, and had a lovely social ride as a bonus.
I will definitely be back next year!


Like Sam I found it seemed strange to be doing another fundraising cycling event so soon after the Bike Rally, but I knew I really wanted to ride in support of my family who are living with Parkinson’s Disease, including Susan and my uncle Jack. I also had two grandparents with PD, so I’ve been able to see the results of all of the groundbreaking research, much of it being done here in Canada, that’s making a big difference in the everyday lives of over 100,000 Canadians with PD. In a generation there have not only been huge leaps in treatment but also understanding this progressive neurological disease, and the important role exercise plays in mediating symptoms. It was amazing to ride with folks who told us how movement, especially on a bike, is medicine for them.

The ride itself was super well organized and had lots of support from the Prince Edward County community, from the local radio station to the Lions cooking us lunch. I will never cease to be amazed at the number of cycling-friendly roads all over the County, even if some of them are a little rough.

All in all, a great day on the bike for a great cause!

Sarah and Sam listening to the pre ride instructions

Join us next year! It would be great to have a larger team and make it a social weekend in Prince Edward County.