The story of November Project Calgary:
I could go on and on about how it began with me watching a video with two strange dudes, that was actually very inspiring, and how it was shown to me by a cousin of a guy that lives in Winnipeg that had already started a pledge crew in -40 degree weather. I could go on and on about the two guys, that decided to start this whole thing, how both their names start with ‘B’, and how they are both larger than life humans. How they were rowers, and somewhat good rowers. How they decided that after all that rowing business, they were sick of the big gyms, the usual show downs at the weight machines, and cardio equipment. How they decided that they wanted to become morning people, and workout outside 5 mornings a week, and they would only use what was around them, tracking it on a spreadsheet, calling it ‘November Project’(insert ah ha moment here). How these two men, started using social media to amp up their workouts, and see what other crazy people would join them. I could go on and on, about how these two incredible men, started a movement; but instead, I’ll tell you about Calgary, and this city that boasts some incredible humans. Ok yes, I started a pledge, I post on social media, I get creative in putting together workouts that not only connects strangers, but will make you sweat and move, and find that happy, that zone where you leave awake, that point to which there is no return, your guaranteed to leave smiling, and feeling alive. This story is about the people of November Project Calgary, I am going to share with you some of their stories, their moments of being vulnerable, that they have shared with me, and yes given permission for me to share with you.
Here is my moment of being vulnerable to start it off, and this is something I don’t do, I am very true to who I am, authentic to my weirdness, accepting of the fact I am not like anyone else, wait I love that fact, and honest in the words that come out of my mouth. I promised to live a life of no regrets, to live each day fully, and to be present. Here it is….moment of truth:
I’m lucky, I’m grateful to have had the things that have happened in my life, mould me into who I am today. Lets face it, we all have shit, we all have the things that challenged us when maybe they shouldn’t have, but they did. The first 6 years of my life weren’t easy, matter of fact, they were not what most babies, toddlers, children should ever have to live, but without going into that, I’d be here all day writing, instead we get to fast forward. I want you to step out of your shoes for a moment; and step into a 11 year old girls shoes, with her mom first starting to feel sick, starting to make multiple doctors visits, and being sent home with no conclusions. Now fast forward 2 years, 2 full years of this. Imagine one night when your moms hands are unable to move, when they are stuck in a weird position and your being asked to put gloves on them so that she can get to a doctor with your Dad. Imagine, just for a moment, that independent woman, that strong woman, that woman that ran that house, that worked hard to raise 6 kids in a moment of weakness. Fast forward just a few months, after two years of tests, being sent home, and not diagnosed, your mom is sent to a specialist, where even after being tested for it once before (wrong style of testing) was diagnosed with cancer. The big ‘C’ word, the one that impacts so many people, the one you think won’t impact you, has struck home. Being the youngest, at that time, it was just me left at home with my parents, and as amazing of a Dad he is, chose to protect me, and let me believe that this was going to be ok. “We are going to fight this. We are going to get treatment”. At the time no one told me that with treatment she was given 6 months, and without 3 months, she had a rare stomach cancer that is typically found in 50 year old men, and they actually attributed it to some cleaner that she used in one of her jobs. By the time they found it, it had spread to her neck and wasn’t backing down. My mom, strong, and just an incredible woman, was going to fight the shit outta this cancer, and in my mind, she had a chance, no, in my teenage mind, she was going to beat it. Each time she came home from the hospital, she was more frail, she was weaker, she had more medication. I remember she just needed my Dad’s help the first while, then my Dad had to carry her, then I saw a wheelchair, that was never used since she was becoming smaller, and lighter, and my Dad would carry her everywhere. Then it was the point she had tubes connected even when she came home. I remember this day to a “T”, the feeling, the things, the people. I woke up to my Dad turning on the light in my room, and saying an ambulance came lights, sirens, and I heard nothing. He said he was leaving to the hospital behind it, and for me to get up and go to school. I spent a lot of time by myself while my mom was in treatment, and having to come home, clean and make my own dinners, I didn’t complain once, I didn’t ask for anything. Lets pause for a moment, 13 years old, not religious, tears, I remember kneeling down, and praying, asking for something good, whether it was for her to not suffer anymore, to beat this thing, this disease, this cancer. I went to school, and did the things I was supposed to do as a teenager, I was staying overnight at my friends house that night, and went to my first bush party (google it, or if your from a small town, especially in good ole Saskatchewan, you know what I’m talking about), when all of a sudden my friends brother drives out, and said I have to go with them, there was a phone call. I remember there wasn’t much for talking, I picked it up, and it was my sister (she would never call), “Its….” “no” “yeah”, tears shared over the phone, I hung up, and chose to not talk much to anyone, I shut down. My best friends were there with me, and they were amazing, but I wasn’t with my family. When I got picked up by my Grandma the next morning (I was very close to her), I was quiet, again, still shut down. The mounds of support that comes when you lose a loved one is incredible, the people that show up for you, to hug you, to make you feel ok, to be there if you need them or not. I want you take yourself back into your own shoes now, to step out of that 13 year olds life, and look in. At that age, coping wasn’t easy, I ended up in the hospital myself with IV’s from being dehydrated and not to mention very skinny; again, that vulnerability may be saved for another chapter of this story, I was ok, but it was that moment when I vowed to live a healthy life, at a young age, I turned this sad story into something else. I chose to get a gym membership, to run outside, to play sports, I chose to talk to as many people as I could, and to all people. I chose to take what I learned through all of this and make a promise that I will make a difference in others lives, and it will be through health and wellness. Sure I was side tracked with boys, I was a teenage girl, but I was always focused on my well being, my Grandma was a huge support, connected me with a dietition, someone to talk about my grieving, and to be a role model and exercise, swim, I mean the woman line danced forever, she bowled in leagues and won, she was cool.
Fast forward to where I am right now, leading a community of free fitness. This is real. This is my reality, I said at a young age, I’d be part of something that would impact lives, that I could do this, and I am. Here’s the thing, this isn’t actually about me at all, I get to be there, to pick parks, to create workouts, but what keeps this alive, what keeps this movement going is all of you, the people, the amazing humans that show up every week, to a space that is free of judgement, that is open to everyone, a space where all formalities are gone, a space that its ok to hug a stranger, its. ok. to. hug. a. stranger (let that sink in before going on…..). You may have just hugged someone that has had the worst week, night, hour of their lives, someone who just went through a break up, lost a loved one, their dog went missing, someone maybe had a bad day at work, or lost their job, in that moment, you don’t know and you may have just made it all go away, in that single moment, they were free of all of it, and you did that with one single touch, connection, hug. Take all that with the weirdness, the craziness, the noise, the bounce, the high fives, and the smiles, you can’t get something like this elsewhere, there is something special about all of it, and the fact that you can go to 31 different cities, and guaranteed, someone will turn around and hug you, and introduce themselves, is profound, its real, its human connection.
I am going to share a few other stories, that may bring on some tears, so get your kleenex ready, get your heart and mind ready for this.
Here are some of the stories from November Project YYC, and what they’ve gone through, take your time, really feel their stories, and understand that these people have opened up to being vulnerable:
Kyle – He’s outspoken, funny, and he’s good shit!
“Hi, my name is Kyle and I’m an alcoholic.”
These words come out of my mouth at least once a week. Sometimes these words come out of my mouth up to four or five times a week, depending on how I’m feeling. Naive Kyle would say “it’s crazy to think that this is where I ended up”, but the Kyle that stands beside you on Monday and Wednesday mornings would say “I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be, and I’m okay with that”.
From as early as I can remember Gym was my favourite subject, and if my teachers asked what my other favourite subject was I would answer “Recess” – yes, I was a little shit. Looking back now it’s kind of funny, those are still my favourite subjects. I love going to the gym, and I love playing sports and most of all I love playing outside with my friends (and ask Tammara, I’m still a little shit). I lost these things for a while though, and this is where my journey begins.
My childhood was pretty normal. I don’t have the early adversity that others have who went down a similar path as me. Although my parents got divorced, I lived a relatively normal life like many kids do who come from mixed families or single parents. One week with my Mom, and one week with my Dad suited me pretty well. I feel this is relevant because I’m no longer about excuses. I feel like there are opportunities in our lives where adversity rears its ugly head and we relish it because it gives us a sense of safety. We take that struggle and use it as an excuse if we fail instead of taking responsibility for our part and learning from it. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I don’t have the catastrophe that I can look back on and say “this, here was the turning point” or “after this happened, everything went south”. I was a pretty average boy with relatively below average grades, and relatively above average athletic ability. I knew I wasn’t going to be on the honour role, and I knew I probably wasn’t going to get a football scholarship either.
I was a party boy. No questions about it. I lived it up sometimes every night of the week. I went to one of the universities I knew had a good party reputation for heavens sake. My debilitating drinking made it impossible for me to finish school, and so I decided to take some time off the books and do what made me happy – drink for a living! I went back to working in a nightclub – or more affectionately known as “the Industry” – and for a while I believed I was happy. Ambition soon deserted me and I was left a shell of a human being. I was a model of complacency and self-sabotage at its finest. After nearly a year of being back in the nightclub I had a very hard time being at work without being drunk. I had nothing else to do, and it really started to eat away at me. Warnings at work started to fly as fast as my inhibitions and one night it all came to a head and I was let go for being way to drunk on shift. I woke up the next morning with zero recollection of what happened and with a serious case of the booze blues. This was just another event in a series that was my career as a drinker.
There is a saying “don’t look back, you’re not going that way”, which carries value in a lot of ways but, for me hindsight and looking at the past has been very helpful to me lately. It helps remind me of where I wind up if I decide to pick up that first drink, or buy that little baggy, or pop that first pill. I like to say that “I don’t drink now because hospitals are a stressful place for my family” because in the past this is quite literally where we would all end up. One of the last examples of this scenario was in March of this year. After an afternoon, evening and night of drinking I woke up in the hospital around 10:30 am hooked up to every wire imaginable, neck brace on, oxygen tubes in my nose and blood all over me. I was startled but because this wasn’t my first rodeo I knew the drill – don’t freak out – nurses don’t like freak outs and the nurses are your friend. The short diagnosis was this: I had sustained head and neck injuries with the most major being a fractured skull and I managed to pull it off with a .38 BAL. It’s surprising I was able to do anything with a blood alcohol level seven times the legal limit, but here I was causing serious trauma to myself. I remember nothing; it was another blackout situation where I quite literally drank myself into darkness and could’ve been out forever had there not been some greater power in the universe. I refuse to believe that I’m just lucky, or that coincidentally I’m still alive today.
I checked myself into rehab broken in more ways than one. Living beyond my means left me broke, landing on my head left my skull broken, and years of lying left me unsure of what was real in the story of my life. November Project came into my life at this time and in hindsight it was a turning point. My thinking still wasn’t completely sound and my first thought was that I could save some money and get away with doing these outdoor “boot camps” instead of paying my gym membership. Once I met Tammara her larger than life attitude kept me coming back. It was an incredible feeling when I finally started to open my eyes to the people next to me. The uplifting sense of community can be felt through even the harshest workouts. NP’ers are always cheering and helping, and the healthy competitiveness mixes with an intense desire to see others succeed. I still consider it a miracle that I have November Project in my life and am humbled by the overwhelming support that’s offered at any given time. In the beginning I thought this was a temporary fix for my desire to workout and lack of funds, now I know that without November Project I wouldn’t be where I am today.
Fast forward a few months and the Kyle who shows up on Mondays and Wednesdays probably wouldn’t recognize the older version. Ambition has made a return to my life as well as self awareness and empathy. I’ve immersed myself in a culture of health and fitness and I continue to test my limits. One of the ways I’m testing myself is through cycling. I got a bicycle for my birthday while I was attending the treatment centre and rode it everywhere. Sometimes I would ride upwards of 50 KMs a day and it started to be my form of meditation. Very often getting sober is referred for to as a “road to recovery” and this is where mine became quite literal. I decided that after a week long family vacation in Penticton I would ride my bike back to Calgary. With some incredible support from family and from some of my new found November Project friends I hopped on my single-speed bike and started off on my journey. The total distance was going to be 680 KMs and I figured I could do that distance in seven days. As with my road in sobriety there were ups and downs and unexpected twists and turns but the journey happens exactly how it is supposed to. After completing the leg from West Kelowna to Revelstoke I hit a major storm and after cycling up hill in five degree weather and pouring rain you really start questioning yourself. Just like in sobriety I was fortunate that along the way someone was there to help me. A young family stopped and asked me if I wanted them to drive me the final 60 kilometres to Golden. At first I felt defeated getting in the truck, but after explaining my story to them and chatting for the 45 minute drive I’m so grateful that there are people in the world who are still genuinely good. I made it home in five days, after logging 620 KMs, and riding for just under 24 hours. Completing that was one of the greatest accomplishments of my life.
And I’m just getting started.
Kylie Stone – She’s our Olympian – She can also arrest us.
I joined the November Project YYC group in September 2015 and I can say every Monday and Wednesday is a love hate relationship. The 5:00 am wake up calls. The workouts that will have you crawling to your car by the end. The aches and pains. Being pushed beyond your limits. I know, It sounds awful. But, trust me when I say, it’s all worth it. It’s worth it because of the people who show up.
I never realized the power of November Project until this past April. I had a friend/colleague commit suicide in probably one of the worst ways you could imagine. I was devastated. That day, I lost a friend, and I lost a bit of myself. I constantly blamed myself for not keeping in touch as much as I should of, for not finding a way to somehow help, and for not being that positive light in her life. That constant blame dug me into a dark hole that I could never seem to climb out of.
November Project soon became that positive light that I was missing. The ass kicking workouts that seemed to turn the sadness into determination. The amazing humans that pushed me to be better. The endless positivity. The hugs. The high fives. The “good jobs”. All of it seems so small in the grand scheme of things, but all of those humans, without even knowing it, pulled me out of that hole. They taught me how to be a better human. Taught me how a simple act of kindness can brighten your day. They taught me how to smile again. Without them, I’m not too sure where I would be.
I’ve grown to excitedly look forward to every Monday and Wednesday. I’ve met so many people that I’m proud to call my friends. I’ve learned that no matter the situation, the mood, or how much Tammara yells at me to run faster or try harder…I know that above it all, these people will always have my back. They will always be there to give me a hug, a high five or chase me up the gruelling Memorial Drive stairs. They are a group that will welcome you with open arms and make you feel like you have a place to belong in this sometimes negative world.
So, November Project. Thank you for being you. Thank you for making me a better and stronger human. Thank you for the amazing workouts. Thank you for the endless adventures and smiles. And, above all, thank you for the lifetime friends.
Josh Sutton – A guy that is at all the good parties!
Today is a difficult day for me, 5 years ago today my best friend Alex passed away. When this happened I didn’t handle things very well, I was out way to frequently and drinking way too much. I only had two emotions sad and angry. During this time I started becoming very close with Alex older brother Tyler and we were helping each other through. Just over a year later from Alex passing I then had to burry Tyler as he collapsed on the job site.
Another hard year. A hard year of being angry far to much. A hard year of not coping and bad choices. I can honestly say I was just a shitty person, looking back I didn’t like me very much for those two years. It took a while but I finally went and got the help needed to process the grief and loss I was experiencing. I finally got myself to a place where I wasn’t angry or sad all of the time. Do I still feel that way on occasion? Fucking right I do, but that’s ok because I can experience it and let it pass.
The day after burying Alex I went to his parents house for the wake and I hadn’t made a sound in 24 hours. I walked into the house to have a figure walk through the back door where I could hear everyone and heard a joyous “joshua!” Exclaimed and it was Alex dad bill. He walked right and me wrapped me in a hug and said “guess what? ….. The sun came up today”. Three years ago I had those words tattooed on my leg, I didn’t feel angry all of the time, I had processed everything and those were the words that always got me through.
When I joined all of you lovely humans earlier this year I had experienced another shitty liked moment. I wasn’t sleeping, I was upset and angry and didn’t know what to do but I was laying in bed most days still watching the sun rise. I started showing up and watching the sun rise with all of you, high 5s, words of encouragement and a bunch of hugs all from strangers. I didn’t say much at first (and probably say too much now) but you all made me feel so welcomed and so encouraged it really helped propel me in a positive way.
Today while in whistler I had aspirations of watching the sun rise on a mountain top but sadly a slip on the pool steps yesterday has left me barley able to walk. I was still able to watch the sun rise and think of all you wonderful people and just wanted to say thank you.
Thank you for making bad days better. Thank you for never passing judgement. Thank you for being encouraging.
Thank you for always smiling.
Thank you for being so inviting.
Thank you for for all the high 5s.
And most of all thank you for all the hugs, they are great on a good day and paramount on a bad day knowing that humanity is decent and we are here for each other not matter what. So whenever you are having a bad moment I would encourage you to think of our weird tribe of stranger turned friends and remember
“The sun came up today”
Pat – He’s a solid human that has shown up no matter what, he’s our rock!
NP YYC has been an amazing experience. From the first day you sucked me in with the extra pushups. Love the positivity from all the people. I am a blessed to have met all of you and enjoy every min with all of you. The best part I love Mondays and now I get to share it with all of you. Look forward to all the workouts and hanging with NP YYC. Reword it however you want but most of all thank you Tammara for all that you do.
So there it is….just a few of the many stories that have come out of this incredible tribe. So when you hear the words “grassroots fitness movement” know that its so much more than that. Its not just free fitness, its people being free and true to who they are.
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