I won the Olympic Trials 5000m to take one of the automatic qualifying spots for the Olympics. I feel so honoured to be representing Canada at my first international games, relief that the hard work over the past 11 years has resulted in something so great, and excitement to line up with the world’s best.
I also can’t help but feel as though there is a small hole in my heart. One that can only be filled with the celebration of achievement of a daughter with her mother.
My mom played a large role in my athletic career, though she only got to experience the very beginnings of my journey in track and field. She died of lymphoma in May of 2005. I was 14 years old and in the thick of my first ever outdoor track season. For this, my mom and outdoor track have been intrinsically linked in my mind since the beginning.
My mom was a dedicated recreational runner herself. My memories of childhood are dotted with glimpses of my mom running on the treadmill in our basement or along the beach during family vacations. I was always curious about the activity, but never daring enough to go with her on a run.
But when I began to show an interest in track, my mom was the first person to encourage me to focus on it, rather than continuing to pursue soccer. For whatever reason, she was able to notice a natural talent, or perhaps potential in running that I didn’t have in other sports.
She encouraged me to join my first track club in grade 9 and together we learned about the sport. She would pick me up from practice, bringing me recovery snacks before I ever knew anything about recovery. I would share the details of the workout. She would listen curiously, patiently learning a little more every time. At this point, she couldn’t run herself and feared that she might never be able to run again.
My mom wasn’t overly involved and never put unneeded pressure on me to perform. She was supportive, gently pushing me to do my best, and always my biggest fan. Through her sickness in the winter of 2004, she still came to every indoor race.
During that time, running became my escape from reality. An activity that I could control amongst all the chaos of hospital visits, failed treatments and uncertainty. I wished everyday that we could have gone on a run together, that she too could enjoy the momentary freedom.
There is no way of hiding that my progression to the Olympics hasn’t been smooth. But every time, over the past 11 years that I questioned what I was doing and thought seriously about quitting, I would think about what my mom would say. Every time I could almost imagine her saying, “Not yet.”
When my mom died, I knew there would be times in my life, perhaps graduation, or getting married, that I would want her to be there. I have never felt this more than right now.
I’m dedicating my experience in Rio to my mom, Carmelina Seccafien. When I line up on August 16th for the 5000m heats, I hope to exemplify the qualities that she battled cancer with: courage, strength and grace.