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Inspiring Canadians: 5 readers who are making a difference through fitness

Come on, Canada! Get inspired by Best Health readers to challenge yourself to a goal’and fundraise for charity at the same time (whether $50 or $5,000, it’s all good)

1 / 5

Vanessa Jeakins, 40; Hamilton, Ont.

What I did: Climbed the CN Tower’s 1,775 steps
The cause: World Wildlife Fund
What I raised: $125

The first time I climbed the CN Tower was in 2007. I was 33 and had been working hard to get fit. I trained by climbing the stairs up the Niagara Escarpment near my home. I thought it would be awesome to conquer such a challenge-and I was right! I did the CN Tower climb again in 2008, and beat my previous time. Both years, I did it in under 25 minutes.

The years went on, life got busy-and I got a little out of shape. So when registration opened this past January for the climb in May, I signed up before I could back out. I started training on the escarpment stairs at least twice a week. There are 500 of them; I started by going halfway up, then worked up to one set, then two, and just before the climb I could do three: 1,500 stairs, close to the CN Tower’s 1,775.

Leading up to the big day, I kept thinking, “I’ll be happy if I do it in under an hour.” Then I thought, “I bet I could do it in under 45 minutes.” But, though I was feeling strong, I figured I’d be slower this time-after all, I’d just turned 40.

The day of the climb, I was so pumped. I had a moment’s panic before taking the first step, but pushed it aside to bring out my inner lion. I didn’t stop once, and somehow shaved 13 seconds from my previous climb! My time was 23 minutes and 25 seconds.

Having a goal is rewarding, but completing it gave me such confidence. Knowing I was raising money and awareness for an important cause was a bonus. I would encourage anyone to take up a challenge if they are working to get in shape.

2 / 5

Adrienne Morry, 32; Houston, B.C.

What I did: Walked 5K
The cause: Terry Fox Foundation
What our school raised: $4,000

I do the Terry Fox Run in various cities nearly every year. The Terry Fox Foundation is important to me; Terry has been a hero to my husband, Jonathan, and me. I have lost three grandparents and several uncles to cancer, and my sister has been treated for skin cancer. I’ve always felt it was important to contribute to finding a cure.

I teach at Twain Sullivan Elementary school, where my daughter Emma is a student. The school participated in the 2013 Terry Fox Run, and Emma, her little sister and I joined. Emma’s goal was $100-a lot of money for a six-year-old-and she beat it! We canvassed a bit to raise money, and we used social media to connect with
family and friends back in Newfoundland to raise funds. Twain Sullivan Elementary raised $4,000!

3 / 5

Chris Perl, 63; Toronto

What I did: Cycled 350K in Cuba
The cause: Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation
What I raised: $4,300

I had never done a bike trip; the longest I’d ever cycled was 25K. To prepare for this trip, I rode a stationary bike four times a week from September to March. I also did spinning classes.

The heat in Cuba was horrific during the ride: 34 degrees and humid-with no shade. It was also fairly hilly! We stayed in hotels along the way. Halfway through the first day, I didn’t think I was going to make it. But once I did last through that day, I told myself I could hop on a bus if I had to, so I knew I’d finish it somehow. And I did cycle the 350K. It was important to me that this was for a charity; I wouldn’t have done it otherwise. I am a breast cancer survivor and I know many other survivors-and non-survivors.

Meet the organizer: Fitness trainer Brent Bishop of Think Fitness Studios I organize many fitness events for charities. Plus, at least once a year, my friend Bryce Wylde and I-Bryce is an author and alternative-healthcare expert-plan bigger fundraising trips. We align our challenges with altruism so we can create awareness for causes we believe in. Before Cuba, we’d done an intense 235K jungle race in Costa Rica, so we wanted something less intense.

In Cuba, Chris Perl was a go-getter; it was great to see someone in her 60s take hold of this challenge and never give up. She did the absolute best she could each day and remained so positive; it was very inspiring. She is also a breast cancer survivor, and I believe she was able to stay focused since she was doing this for an altruistic purpose.

Bishop is based in Toronto. Are you a fitness trainer who organizes charity challenges? You could be featured, too! Go to

4 / 5

Alison Domingues, 36; Toronto

What I did: Walked 60K in two days
The cause: The Princess Margaret Cancer Centre
What I raised: $12,300 over six years (her whole team has raised some $77,000!)

Here’s why I participate in the Shoppers Drug Mart Weekend to End Women’s Cancers. In 2008, my mom was diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer. It was caught early as she was in the breast cancer screening program at Princess Mar­garet Cancer Centre, and she had her lumpectomy and radiation treatments within a month. Thankfully, today she is cancer-free.

Shortly after my mom’s diagnosis, my sister Cherlynn called to ask if I wanted to do the Weekend walk with her. I agreed right away; this was my way to help Mom. Plus, my aunt survived cervical cancer and her cousin survived uterine cancer. I too have had precancerous cells removed from my uterus. It was time to be proactive; without the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, with its ability to research and its latest equipment, our mom might not be with us today.

Cherlynn had done this walk three times, and I’ve now done it five times; my sixth will be this September 6 and 7. Some people think that walking isn’t that hard, but 60K is a long way! We start training in the spring to get in as much walking as we can. Even with that training, two days in a row of walking 30K is tough, especially if there is a downpour like we’ve had a couple of times during the walk. But the Weekend is an exhilarating and emotional experience-one I’ve never had elsewhere.

My husband and three young sons are proud to tell people what I do, and they are part of fundraising events my team hosts. That, in turn, makes me proud. My eldest son recently said, “Mom, when can I help save lives and walk with you?”

5 / 5

Dessi Zaharieva, 25; Mississauga, Ont.

What I did: Ran 5K
The causes: Sunnybrook Foundation, I Challenge Diabetes and York University Diabetes Sports Camp at Sunnybrook Park
What I raised: $260

I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age seven. To prove that this disease will not stop me, I have pushed myself beyond all expectations. When I was a kid, my parents signed me up for sports including swimming, basketball, volleyball, rugby and tae kwon do. Last year, I represented Canada at the World Championships for tae kwon do in Bulgaria. I won a bronze for Team Canada in individual sparring for women under 75 kilograms. It’s one of my greatest accomplishments and a moment I’ll never forget.

I have always found that doing physical activity makes it more challenging to maintain perfect blood sugar levels, but it has never stopped me. My experience living with this disease sparked a passion to research diabetes and learn more about regulation of blood glucose levels during sport. My Master’s research at York University looked at the effects of pure caffeine on blood sugar levels during exercise in individuals with type 1 diabetes. And I have been accepted into a PhD program; I will be researching the artificial pancreas system.
I truly care about diabetes awareness, since the disease affects so many. I heard about the Spring Into Action fundraising event through InsideOut Health & Fitness Studio, and got involved through my research and the York University Diabetes Sports Camp we run. I did the 5K run last year, and again in May.

Spring Into Action was an incredible event; there is so much support from volunteers, the community, family members and friends. It’s a chance for everyone to be active and enjoy the outdoors. This year, despite rainy weather, we had hundreds of supporters for the ninth annual event.


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