In my profession, and as someone who frequently works one-on-one with people, I am fortunate to get to know my clients fairly well: what they are passionate about, and the incredible paths they travel to realize their dreams. I am constantly and continually humbled by the journeys they make. Even more than the physical feats people may be able to accomplish, what makes me really happy is watching people discover the resources within themselves to realize the dreams they might once have thought were out of their reach. New possibilities. Moments of elation and excitement. These are the things that motivate me to observe, research, explore, experiment and learn about every facet of the moving body; finding strategies for creating new potential.
Joan Smyth is a Moving Spirit client who recently achieved a personal victory. She and her family participated in The Parkinson SuperWalk, raising an astonishing sum to support education and support services for people suffering from Parkinsons disease. She overcame some of her own physical challenges, and her family’s team, “The Red Hot Chili Steppers,” raised over $17,000 on their walk! Joan clearly finds great joy and meaning in the love of her family, and her connection to her community. Her determination to complete the SuperWalk seemed like a such a powerful expression of love that I was deeply moved. I asked Joan if she’d share her story with us. I hope you’ll join me in celebrating her success!
Susannah Steers: Joan, can you tell us a little about yourself?
Joan Smyth: I have been retired for 10 years and am 67 years old. I grew up in Montreal, Quebec and moved to Vancouver about 21 years ago. I am married with 2 children who are now married with children of their own. I had always been very active where we lived near Hudson, Quebec; with a horse, 2 dogs, a cat and 2 kids. I rode, played tennis, was Police Chief and Fire Chief of our town as a volunteer (my portfolio on the Town Council), and volunteered in the schools teaching computer and sang in a choir. A few months after moving to Vancouver, I joined my husband at Sanitherm Engineering and worked there for 13 years. My background was in computer systems, so I oversaw the Systems, Administration, Personnel and Marketing side of the company. It was almost 24/7 full time work with a lot of International travel, eating out and not much time for exercise. I gained weight and became far less physically active than I was back East.
Susannah: Why is it important for you to move well and with ease now?
Joan: It is critical for me to feel I am listening to my body and staying flexible as I get older. I was keenly conscious of lack of ease of mobility since an injury 6 years ago effecting my hip and my walking. I could only walk 20 minutes at a time, for about a year, without feeling pain in my leg and hip. I went to physiotherapy but I felt I needed more. I found out at that time, from a CT scan for my hip in 2011, that I also had some spinal disc bulge and degeneration. Just as I was recovering from my hip injury, a fibroma was found in the arch of my right foot. This added to my concern about mobility going forward. I had not been active for the years since my hip injury. My friend recommended Moving Spirit in 2011 and what a difference this has made to my every day life, to my movement and my understanding of my body as a whole. I have had monthly private training with you since then and am moving easily without pain.
Susannah: What are some of the most meaningful activities in your life, or things that you just LOVE to do?
Joan: I LOVE to travel to far away destinations and to spend quality time with my kids and grandkids, family and friends. I am a very active Grandmother because 3 of my grandkids live 2 blocks from us – 6, 4 and 1 year old. My favourite times are when our entire family is together, in November in Palm Desert and in the summer at Lake Cowichan. My son and family come from Toronto to join us. I also love to walk and am passionate about computer systems. (Causing lots of neck and shoulder issues over the years.)
Susannah: Can you tell us a little about the Parkinson SuperWalk?
Joan: About 14,000 Canadians take part in the Parkinson SuperWalk. Together they raise funds for education and support services, not only for people with Parkinson’s, but also for their caregivers and family members in communities across Canada. This annual event also raises funds for research into the causes of Parkinson’s, better treatments and one day, a cure.
SS: Why was it important for you to participate in the Parkinson SuperWalk this year?
Joan: My husband was diagnosed with Parkinson’s this past spring and as a Father’s Day gift, our 2 children and their spouses told my husband they were organizing a team for the Parkinson’s SuperWalk in his honour and for a cure. They contacted the Parkinson’s Society and set up the first National team so my son could walk with family and friends in Toronto and my daughter could walk with family and friends in Vancouver and we could all be part of one team. The Parkinson’s Society of Canada also published an article my son and daughter wrote called “Walking for Dad” in their Newsletter and posted it on their website. The article is in the link below and with this, the Red Hot Chili Steppers began their fundraising efforts. This article also articulates what the walk was about in the eyes of our 2 children. We are humbled and deeply touched by the final results.
Susannah: Despite your desire to do the SuperWalk, you had some concerns beforehand. What were your concerns, and how were you able to overcome them?
Joan: I was very concerned about the SuperWalk because I had not walked longer than 30 minutes at one time, due to my fibromas, for 6 years. Now I had 3 fibromas, not just one, in the arch of my right foot. I was very worried about aggravating them and having more difficulty walking after the event, but was determined to get to the finish line. With your caring and capable coaching, you gave me strategies to deal with pain along the walk and exercises to do to prepare beforehand. You worked with me to prepare me mentally and physically and to sent me on my way with bravado.
Susannah: I knew you could do it! What did you learn about your own capabilities during the Walk, or afterward?
Joan: I was astonished that I was able to do the walk and deal with minor hip pain easily, with the psychological strategies you had covered with me. I had no foot pain whatsoever from the fibromas! I’m excited that since I proved to myself I was able to walk a full hour and more, now I know I can get back to long walks and hiking with my new movement strategies and the customized exercises you gave me.
Susannah: How will you use what you’ve learned in the rest of your moving life?
Joan: I have learned how to incorporate the valuable insights you have taught me into my everyday life. I am able to lift my grandkids with ease now that I have learned how to do it properly and safely. I am able to sit and stand with better posture and my body alignment is always improved after each class. I feel taller, lighter and more flexible after each class and am convinced my core training is helping every movement I make. I am learning so much about my body and am loving it!
Susannah: What are some of things, people or experiences that light up your life and bring you joy?
Joan: Definitely my four grandchildren bring me tremendous joy! My children and their spouses, my family and friendships light up my life. Our travel also brings great fulfillment and has been a lifelong passion. Among the significant life experiences has been building a classroom onto a school in Kenya and to see 75 grade one children, 3 to a desk, sitting there with huge smiles. What a feeling of gratefulness that brings. Donating an incubator to a hospital in Kenya where they have 3 preemies to one incubator is an experience which moved us deeply. We are truly blessed. Watching our children and their spouses lovingly bringing up their own children brings great pride and joy.
Susannah: Who,or what, is your biggest inspiration?
Joan: I am inspired by people who go out into the world and make a difference in the lives of others less fortunate. I like to think of retirement as our challenge to move from “success to significance” which is a poignant quote from a book I am reading right now.
Susannah: We’ve worked together for a few years now. What is different about what you do here, compared to movement & physical fitness training you’ve done elsewhere?
Joan: The difference is in the teaching! I am learning from a wise and patient teacher how to listen to my body, how to understand movement and how individual each of our bodies are and we all need different customized strategies. I am benefitting from a completely customized movement strategy geared to my personal limitations and how to overcome my unique movement issues.
Susannah: Thanks Joan. I believe, deep down to the very marrow of my bones, in the incredible resiliency of our bodies, if we just get to know them, and learn how best to work with them. It is such a pleasure for me to see you re-discovering all that you are capable of doing. Congratulations on completing the walk, and on making such a huge contribution to the Parkinson SuperWalk. You are an inspiration to us all!
There may be people reading your story who are moved to contribute to the Parkinson SuperWalk. Is it possible for people to donate to the cause now, even after the SuperWalk has been completed?
Joan: I would love that anyone feeling so inclined contribute to my son, Shane Smyth, or my daughter, Tracey-Lee Eddy’s links from this page. Shane is on the Toronto team and Tracey-Lee is on the Vancouver team. They each wrote their story about why they were walking for their Dad on their personal pages and they included a photo of their Dad.
As you read Joan’s story, think about what inspires you to reach past your current limits and move into your best life. How are you motivated to move in the world? Becoming an active participant in the health of our own bodies creates new possibilities for engaging with the world around us. What moves you? Share your thoughts in the comments below!