Follow your passion; it will lead you to your purpose.

Oprah Winfrey
Life is a Relay: Part I-Exploding out of the Blocks

Life is a Relay: Part I-Exploding out of the Blocks

Posted by martin.parnell |

On June 23rd 2017 I stood on the Jack Singer Auditorium stage in Calgary and gave my TED Talk, Life is a relay. This is part I, Exploding out of the blocks:

I’ve often heard it said that “life is a marathon, not a sprint”. However, having run a few of marathons, I’ve come to believe that life is actually a relay.

I love watching the Olympics. One of my favourite events is the 4X100 relay race. The athletes line up, the gun goes off and they explode out of the blocks. Hitting their stride, they hurtling down the track with one objective in mind. To pass the baton to the next runner.

In life, exploding out of the blocks is that moment when you find your passion, the thing you were meant to do. Hitting your stride is the journey you take. You may not know the destination but you’re on the right path. Passing the baton is reaching out to someone and sharing your experiences.

Usain Bolt’s reaction time at the start of a race is 0.155 seconds. However, it took me a lot longer to explode out of the blocks.

On December 9th 2001 my wife Wendy died of Cancer. Over the following year I struggled with my grief and often felt empty and alone.

One evening, in December 2002, I got a call from my younger brother Peter. After some small talk he got to the point “I challenge you to a marathon” and with hesitation I said “You’re on!”

Now the only problem was, I didn’t run. I was 47 years old and I had always had a bit of a rocky relationship with sport.

This is “Baby” Martin, a child only a mother could love. Back then I was known as a “Huggable” child. My size caused issues in school. When it came to sport in England it was soccer, cricket and rugby and I always got picked last for the team. I’m what you could call a “Reverse-Olympian”, they’re generally very good at one sport while I’m rubbish at lots of sports.

So that same night Peter challenged me I headed out. I was in my canvas tennis shoes, cotton jogging pants, fleecy top, woolly hat and big mitts. I ran 1 km out and 1 km back. Returning home I was cold and wet and thought to myself “This is ridiculous, I’ve done 2 km and have another 40.2 to go. How on earth could anyone run that distance!” however I knew I couldn’t back down from a challenge from my brother.

I realised I needed help so I joined the Sudbury Rocks running club. They taught me about nutrition, hydration, shoes, and pacing. Over the next two months my mileage increased from 5km to 10km and in April I ran the Ottawa half marathon. Finally it was July and I was at the start line of the 2003 Calgary Marathon. Next to me was my Brother Peter. And to show you how big a challenge this was, on the other side was my other younger brother Andrew who had flown in from England.

This was Global Sibling Rivalry.

The gun went off and I flew from the start line. Then, at the 2 km mark disaster struck. I stepped in a pot hole and smash, down I went. My knees were bleeding and my hands were all scraped up. Well, I brushed myself off and kept going. I finished the marathon in just under 4 hours and in the brotherly stakes Andrew came first I was second and Peter was third.

I felt elated to have completed the marathon. While dealing with my grief Peter had reached out to me and, in running, I had found my passion. Finally I had exploded out of the blocks.

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The road to success is always under construction.

Life is a Relay: Part II-Hitting your Stride

Life is a Relay: Part II-Hitting your Stride

Posted by martin.parnell |

On June 23rd 2017 I stood on the Jack Singer Auditorium stage in Calgary and gave my TED Talk, Life is a Relay. This is part II, Hitting your Stride:

Usain Bolt’s best relay spilt is 8.7 seconds and he hits his stride in 60 m’s. In a 100m relay, the path is very clear. You have a lane and you have to stay in it. However, in life the path is not quite so clear.

My running journey continued and took me to the 2004 Boston Marathon but then in 2005 I signed up for a four month cycle trip in Africa from Cairo to Cape Town. Along the way I played soccer, ping pong and ran with the kids and I realized the power of play and sport.  I doesn’t matter your age, gender, culture or religion sport brings people together.

This experience stayed with me but I didn’t know what to do with it until one evening in February 2009 a friend introduced me to Right To Play.

This organization uses sport and play based programs to teach kids life skills such as leadership, team building and conflict resolution. That night something had clicked and I knew I wanted to help.

In mid-2009, I was training for my first 100 mile race, the Lost Souls Ultra and while out on a 5 hour run, I came up with the idea of “Marathon Quest 250”. This would involve attempting to run 250 marathons in one year in order to raise $250,000 for Right To Play.

So on January 1st 2010 at 9.00am a group of us lined up on the 1A, outside of Cochrane. It was -32C. The gun went off and 5 ½ hours later we were finished. One down 249 to go. During the year my favourite days were Thursdays when I’d run a marathon at one of the local schools.

I’d go in for morning assembly and talk to the kids about Right To Play. Then I’d go outside and run 100 times around a school building or the soccer field.  Round and around.

The kids would then come out and join me for the first couple of loops. Then they’d wave goodbye and head to classes. I’d keep going and they’d wave to me from inside. At lunch time they would come out for two more loops. As we ran they’d feed me lunch. They’d give me apples, carrots and snickers bars. I was like a running Guinea pig, sort of a “Pet for a Day”.

Then they’d go in for afternoon classes. I’d keep going and at end of the day, after six hours of running, the kids would join me for the last two loops and we’d finish the marathon together and have high fives.

But what really blew me away was when they came up to me and gave me their pocket money for the “other” kids. They understood how lucky they were with their school, homes and toys and then I shared with them that some children don’t get the chance to play. These children might have to spend 6 hours a day fetching water from a tap in a village or live in refugee camps where it’s too dangerous to go off and play.

I could have had the worst week of running marathons but my spirits soared every Thursday after running at a school.

In total I ran at 60 schools with over 12,000 students from kindergarten to Grade 12.

Marathon #250 was completed on December 31st and we had raised $320,000.

I had found my path by using running to help underprivileged children and I was hitting my stride.

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Create your legacy, and pass the baton.

Billie Jean King
Life is a Relay: Part III-Passing the Baton

Life is a Relay: Part III-Passing the Baton

Posted by martin.parnell |

On June 23rd 2017 I stood on the Jack Singer Auditorium stage in Calgary and gave my TED Talk, Life is a Relay. This is part III, the final section, Passing the Baton:

Usain Bolt was a member of the gold medal winning 2012 and 2016 Jamaican Olympic 4x100 men’s relay team. One of the key factors for victory: successfully passing the baton.

In February 2015 I was hospitalized because of a massive blood clot on my brain. Suddenly from running multiple marathons, I needed help to walk the 20 feet from the hospital bed to the bathroom.

My recovery was slow and I was on a cocktail of drugs. But after 2 months I was allowed to go for short walks and in May I inched my way along to the finish line of the 2015 Calgary Marathon 5 km walk.

The months rolled by and one morning, in late October, my wife Sue, showed me an article in the Guardian newspaper. It was about the 1st Marathon of Afghanistan and a young woman named Zainab, who had become the first ever Afghan woman to have run a marathon.

What struck me were the challenges she faced in training. Normally, runners are normally dealing with issues of hydration, nutrition, blisters. For Zainab the issues were verbal and physical abuse. People would yell at her “get off the streets” and “you’re a prostitute” and they’d throw stones at her to stop her. She ended up training by running around and around inside her walled garden.

When I read this I vowed that if I was ever able to run again, I would support the women in the 2nd Marathon of Afghanistan. At the end of May I ran the 2016 Calgary Marathon and at the end of October was on a plane to Kabul.

When I arrived I met another marathon participant. Her name was Kubra and she was being supported by Free to Run, an NGO working with girls and women in communities impacted by war and conflict. Unfortunately her training had been interrupted by a bombing at her school, and she thought she would only be able to run the 10km. I asked if she would like to try and run the marathon together, with the aim of finishing within the cut-off time of 7 hours. She said yes.

The race started at 8.00am on November 4th and was held in the town of Bamyan, 140km north-west of Kabul. The course was brutal. It was an out and back and started at an elevation of 9,000 feet.  The out section then had an elevation gain of another 1,200 feet. Kubra and I started a routine of running 9 minutes and walking 1. The key was to take hydration, nutrition and electrolytes at regular intervals. We reached the turnaround at 3 hours 36 minutes and I knew that at this rate we wouldn’t make the cut-off time. Also, Kubra was struggling. She was suffering from stomach cramps.

We continued with the 9 and 1’s but Kubra’s cramps were getting worse and we started to walk. I knew Kubra was mentally tough and over the next two hours I used all my experience from 330 marathons to keep her going. I told her to take things in “10 minute chunks”, keep moving and not to look beyond that. With 6 hours 45 minutes gone we still had 1 km to go. We looked at each other and started running. We crossed the finish line at 6 hours and 52 minutes. We had 8 minutes to spare.

I had gone to Afghanistan to support the women and running with Kubra had helped me do it. Kubra had already exploded from the blocks with her efforts to promote women and girls rights and was hitting her stride with the work she was doing with Free to Run. During the 7 hours we were running we worked together for a common goal. Kubra had completed the marathon and the baton had been passed.

Now, I’m at the end of this relay and it’s time to hand off the baton.

I’d like to ask Gitti Sherzad to come up to the stage.

Gitti arrived in Calgary from Afghanistan at the age of seven with her parents and younger sister Gee-Sue. She is studying at the University of Calgary and Gitti and her team are presently organizing their first fundraiser to help victims of the devastation from the recent terrorist attacks in Kabul. These funds will go directly to the families most in need.

Gitti is doing something to make a difference. She’s exploded out of the blocks and is starting to hit her stride. Gitti, I’m handing over the baton to you. Take it and run with it.

So have you started your relay yet? What will it take for you to explode out of the blocks?Find your passion and you’re on your way. 

Hitting your stride can be a long journey. The key is an openness to take a chance and a willingness to persevere. 

At the end of the relay it’s time to pass the baton. So reach out to someone, share your experiences and make a difference in their life. 

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Thankfulness creates gratitude which generates contentment that causes peace.

Todd Stocker

Be Thankful and Share your Good Fortune, this Thanksgiving

Posted by martin.parnell |

My wife and I are currently hosting some visitors from England and, today, they will experience their first Canadian Thanksgiving. 

I decided to find out just where this annual tradition originated and discovered that the origins of Canadian Thanksgiving are more closely connected to the traditions of Europe than of the United States. 

Long before Europeans settled in North America, festivals of thanks and celebrations of harvest took place in Europe in the month of October. According to the Canadian Encyclopedia, “The very first Thanksgiving celebration in North America took place in 1578 in Canada when Martin Frobisher, an explorer from England, came in search of the Northwest Passage. He wanted to give thanks for his safe arrival to the New World. That means the first Thanksgiving in Canada was celebrated 43 years before the pilgrims landed in Plymouth, Massachusetts! 

Another reason for Canadian Thanksgiving arriving earlier than its American counterpart is that Canada is geographically further north than the United States, causing the Canadian harvest season to arrive earlier than the American harvest season. And since Thanksgiving for Canadians is more about giving thanks for the harvest season than the arrival of pilgrims, it makes sense to celebrate the holiday in October. 

For a few hundred years, Thanksgiving was celebrated in either late October or early November, before it was declared a national holiday in 1879. It was then, that November 6th was set aside as the official Thanksgiving holiday. However, on January 31st, 1957, Canadian Parliament announced that Thanksgiving was to be moved to the second Monday in October. This was because, after the World Wars, Remembrance Day (November 11th) and Thanksgiving kept falling in the same week. 

Thanksgiving is a statutory holiday in most of Canada, with the exceptions being the Atlantic provinces of Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, where it is an optional holiday.

It should also be noted that many favourites foods, on Thanksgiving dinner tables across Canada, trace their origins to food made by First Nations peoples long before Europeans set foot in North America. Besides fish and game such as buffalo, elk and caribou, native feasts held centuries ago at various times of year would have included roasted fowl such as pheasant, grouse and turkey, root vegetables such as turnips, potatoes and carrots, the "three sisters" of corn, beans and squash (including pumpkin), nuts and berries. In some locales, wild rice and cranberries might have been served, and on the coasts and in the far north seafood would have been a staple.

These foods were indigenous to the country, says Chef David Wolfman, a culinary arts professor at George Brown College in Toronto for 20 years. Some may have been unfamiliar to European explorers and settlers but were all adopted of necessity. As they were passed from generation to generation, they became "traditional," he says, explaining this sharing of knowledge and foods is very much in the spirit of First Nations culture.

At the same time as sharing our Thanksgiving meal, we will take the opportunity to give thanks for many other  aspects of our lives, not just the food on our plates, but the friends and neighbours with whom we share it and the good fortune to be healthy and happy.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.

Bill Bryson
Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder, even your Local Store

Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder, even your Local Store

Posted by martin.parnell |

As I mentioned, in my last blog, we have had some guests visiting, from England. 

Phil, is an old friend from mining college and had visited me many years ago, when I worked in Yellowknife. His wife, Mandy, had never been to Canada. 

They were only here for a week, but made the most of their time with trips to several areas, including Lake Louise, where they enjoyed a two-hour hike and Banff. As with all our visitors from England, they were impressed by the might and beauty of the mountains and stunning views. 

We took them to Winsport (Canada Olympic Park), where they watched a game of ice-hockey, saw ice skaters train and observed athletes competing in Skeleton. They also enjoyed a tour of Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame, which was established in 1955 to "preserve the record of Canadian sports achievements and to promote a greater awareness of Canada's heritage of sport." 

We saw a play at The Pumphouse Theatre, Calgary called “Silence and the Machine”, which featured brilliant, local actor, Greg Wilson and, on Saturday morning, before leaving for the airport,  watched novice riders put their horses through their paces at an Extreme Cowboy Alberta event, at the AG center. 

Locally, we walked the trail to the RancheHouse and along to the Man of Vision statue. In Downtown Cochrane, they were amazed by the choice of flavours at Mackays ice-cream, including Nanaimo Bar, Rocky Road, Root Beer and Haskap Berry and were fascinated by the “cowboy gear” at Lammle’s Western Wear and Tack.

Later, we all enjoyed a lovely meal at the Greek Plate restaurant and a game of pool at the Rockyview hotel. 

Two places, perhaps somewhat surprisingly, certainly made a big impression on them. The first was Dollarama, where Mandy bought a selection of Hallowe’en crafts for her granddaughters, some “slipper” (non-slip) socks, to put away for Christmas gifts and a selection of colourful journals, which were a steal at $3 or $4 each. 

We then crossed the road to Canadian Tire, which Phil had specifically asked to see, as he’s very keen on DIY and wanted to check out the tools section. We ended up spending over an hour in the store. Mandy was taken with all the Hallowe’en decorations, especially the huge ones for your yard and Phil was very impressed by the wide selection and price of the tools. 

Coming from England, they were, needless to say, surprised to see guns and ammunition for sale and had a long chat with the guy behind the counter, who patiently explained you couldn’t just go in a buy one and how you have to acquire a licence etc. 

Another section that intrigued them both, was where all the fishing gear is on display, with the different  rods, reels and colourful lures and baits, some of which, Sue explained to Mandy, she had purchased, in the past, to make jewellery, minus the hooks, of course. 

I must confess, I had never thought of Dollarama and Canadian Tire as “tourist destinations”, but I’ll bear it in mind, in future! 

Mandy and Phil can’t wait to come back and I look forward to their return visits, when we’ll be able to share with them the joys of the rodeo and pow-wows, during the summer and the skiing and snowshoeing in the winter. Having visitors certainly helps to remind you of different aspects of our community that are interesting and unique to both our local community and Canada. 

So, next time you’re out and about, take a few minutes to really appreciate all that Cochrane and area has to offer and look it through the eyes of a visitor.

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Talking to oneself is a recognized means to learn, in fact, self-speak may be the seed concept behind human consciousness.

Kilroy J. Oldster

Talking to Yourself can Help You be Prepared

Posted by martin.parnell |

We probably all know someone who has the habit of muttering to themselves and might put it down to being one of their “little idiosyncrasies”, but according to a Harvard Management “Tip of the Day” for October 12th, they might just be ahead of the game. 

In the article entitled “To Learn Something, Explain It to Yourself Out Loud”, adapted from “Talking to Yourself (Out Loud) Can Help You Learn,” by Ulrich Boser, it suggests that  muttering under your breath can be a helpful way to learn a new concept or skill:

When you’re studying something new, either reading about it or listening to others explain, it, take the time to pause and summarize out loud what you’re learning. This serves two purposes: First, it slows you down — and when you’re more deliberate, you gain more from the learning experience. Second, it cements the new knowledge by forcing you to consider questions like “What do I find confusing? Do I really know this well enough to explain it?” Whether you hit the pause button while listening to a podcast, or stop to reflect while reading a manual, tell yourself what you’re learning — maybe just don’t do it in public. 

I know there have been times when I’ve been reading instructions and have found myself reading instructions out loud, especially when there are several steps. 

In a piece entitled “Self-made millionaire: 3 ways that talking to yourself can help you succeed”, on the CNBC website, Grant Cardone suggests: “In order to be successful, you may want to try talking to yourself. It sounds strange, but I've found that positive self-talk can help a person's attitude immensely. That, in turn, leads to better relationships with others, higher self-esteem and more productive days. Here are three ways to have a more positive attitude in order to succeed in life. Talk to yourself and think positive thoughts. What you say when you talk to yourself creates your attitude. 

People wonder why their life isn't exciting: It's their think and their talk. Your entire life is created by your thoughts—and then by your language. The thoughts that you have are created in part by the language you use. If you think it, you'll say it and then you'll do it. This is why so many people try and change behavior, but it doesn't last. If you don't change your thought process, you won't change your verbal process, and you won't change your actions.” 

Cardone goes on to suggest we also change our vocabulary: “Start using the language that highly-successful people employ every day. Do you think highly successful people with great attitudes, when asked how their weekend was, reply, "It was okay" or "It was same old same old"? No, the people that answer that way are mundane. "Alright, it's okay, so-so, nothing special.” Successful people don't talk like that. Some examples of words to include in your new vocabulary: "Great," "super," "wonderful," "incredible," "excellent."

When I’m preparing new talk, I always say it out loud and sometimes record it, to see if it makes sense and sounds right. I also do this when I’m preparing questions, for my workshops.

It helps to know that the vocabulary and tone sound right and everything is properly explained. Sometimes you can’t quite get that from just reading what you’ve written, when it’s for someone else.

So, next time you see someone muttering to themselves, just remember they may just be learning something worthwhile, or formulating the next great innovation!

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Fear makes us feel alive and know we are stepping outside our comfort zones, which is exciting.

Dr.Steve Orma, PsyD, clinical psychologist,
How being Scared with Friends can be a Good Thing

How being Scared with Friends can be a Good Thing

Posted by martin.parnell |

Tomorrow evening, as in many countries, children across Canada will be donning their Halloween costumes and heading out to go trick or treating. 

The strange thing is, at any other time of the year, if you told them that there were ghosts, zombies and monsters on every corner, they would be terrified. But not tomorrow night. The more horror the better.  They will laugh at skeletons dangling from trees, giant spiders crawling up the sides of houses and pumpkins with terrifying faces. 

I wonder if it’s because we regard Halloween as “fun’. Something we enjoy together and, of course, there’s the build-up. Some children will have spent weeks deciding on what they want to be, when it comes to their costume, maybe they spent time making it. Many stores stock Halloween products well in advance and maybe kids get acclimatised. Then, there’s the candy. Go out and be scared, but reward yourself with a bag full of candy. And it’s not just the kids. Many adults will be dressing up too, going to parties or curling up, in front of a screen to watch a scary movie. We too like to take that step out of our comfort zone. 

But, for many adults, they don’t need the excuse of Halloween to go out and deliberately place themselves in a position to be scared. Do you know someone who has done something that has made them feel afraid? Maybe they went skydiving, climbed a mountain or rode a roller coaster. I was at Science North, in Ontario, last year and plucked up the courage to handle a tarantula, so as to show my grandkids that spiders are not to be feared. Actually, I was terrified, almost as much as when I bungee jumped over Victoria Falls. 

I began to wonder whether or not being just a little scared might actually be a good thing. Maybe if we have been confronted by something that scares us, we feel stronger by facing that fear. After all, it’s an emotion we all share and is crucial to our ability to survive. Without that fear factor in our biological make-up, we wouldn’t be able to respond when we are in danger. 

 I did some research and found an article by Jenn Sinrich, in Reader’s Digest that suggests being scared can, actually have some benefits. Sinrich quotes Debbie Mandel, MA, stress-management specialist, radio show host and author of Addicted to Stress. who says that “The excitement generated can also help alleviate depression by the increase in norepinephrine (adrenaline), which in turn increases arousal, excitement and glucose (converted into energy). Being scared takes us completely away from our everyday worries and depression. It’s nearly impossible to be thinking of our pressures and worries when we’re experiencing fear or feeling scared. It works like an eraser for the mind.” 

We all have to face scary things in our lives, some far more serious than others. Some that no amount of laughter and candy can diminish. But when it comes to the smaller things, maybe it is easier to face them when there’s an adult or bunch of friends along with you.  Dr. John, Mayer, MD, leading practicing psychologist, author and expert on violence states, “The hormone oxytocin has been associated with ‘prosocial’ behavior, making us want to bond with others and seek out the comfort of others. The classic image of people huddling together on the couch while watching a scary movie or hugging at a theatre are perfect examples.” 

If that’s the case, I wondered how this theory might apply to how this state of “fear” might translate to the workplace. Maybe we can utilise that feeling to motivate us, especially when working with colleagues. Debbie Mandel reasons that “Many people need that adrenaline rush of the eleventh hour whether it’s to tackle a project at work or a write a paper on deadline. It also helps you delegate and be part of a team. According to evolution we’re tribal, which makes sense that in a work setting we need members of our tribe or team to help us survive that scary saber tooth tiger that is hitting certain goals.” 

On an individual level, we are told that ‘The acute stress that accompanies fear is also good for you, because it keeps you vigilant and wakes you up to perform better as in public speaking or simply waking up in the morning!  Cortisol levels rise in the morning to wake you up from a prolonged period of sleep.” 

So, I guess being a little scared is no bad thing. I’ll bear that in mind, next time I’m waiting in the wings, ready to go on stage and give a keynote presentation. Maybe I should repeat this mantra:  “Fear is good”.

Who knows, it might even help. Anyway, whatever you are doing tomorrow evening, Happy Halloween!

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