Meet Ben (YEG)

First, a few quick announcements:

  • #justshowup 6 AM
    • Monday – Grizzly Bear Lodge Park (Kinsmen) Wednesday – “The Future is Bright” – Wear your favourite sunglasses as we climb Commonwealth StairsFriday – Walterdale Hill
  • #savethedate
    • Wednesday, August 28 – Old 96er & the Gristle – last chance of the season
    • Monday, September 2 – Sunrise 6K
  • Until next time…SMILE! J

& now…the main attraction…BEN!

Ben’s dedicated work ethic, kind spirit, and generous nature make him a cornerstone of our November Project Canada community. You can count on Ben to give 100% every morning and still find a way to dig a little deeper and inspire others to do the same. I am confident that as you read Ben’s NP journey you will connect to many of his experiences. I am excited for him as he will be lacing his sneakers Sunday morning, ready to light up the marathon course for his marathon debut. Whether you are on course or at the cheer station, cheer on Ben and the many other community members who will be hitting the Edmonton Marathon pavement. NP will be joining the lululemon community at 111 street & 102 ave (dress code: wear black).

Now…Meet Ben!

For starters, I am an introvert. I know I am only one of many in the November Project community but I need to mention it because it frames how unlikely it is that I ever became a part of this community. I know that being introverted is not a massive hurdle to accomplishing your goals or joining a group like NP. And after reading other members’ blogs it is clearly not the greatest challenge that has been faced and overcome, but I am not sure I can tell my story without starting with this fact.

I first showed up at NP in the summer of 2013. I believe it was August and my friend called me up and mentioned that Andrew Ference was leading a public workout in Churchill Square at an ungodly hour the next morning. I enlisted my brother and the three of us showed up there, late, not realizing we missed the bounce. I took a free space beside Andrew and was introduced to a deck of cards. It was so hard. At the end we all attempted a human pyramid and took a picture and went home. 

The next day I had trouble raising my arms above my head to shampoo my hair. I was so sore.

I showed up with my buddy periodically over the next few months. I remember some faces. I didn’t know anyones’ names. Autumn came and then winter and at some point, I stopped coming. I suppose it was the cold. I don’t remember. It didn’t seem significant at the time.

See, I hadn’t done any strenuous physical activity since my early teens. I hadn’t played sports since elementary school. I had just quit smoking (I smoked for 17 years). I have asthma. I had little inclination to start working out.

And as I have stated, being in a large group of strangers makes me anxious. I avoid going out to parties when I don’t know people there. I avoid starting conversations with strangers if I can help it. Jumping and yelling and sweating and hugging strangers before dawn seemed like the last thing I would want to do.

And yet on some day the next spring, which I wish I could recall, I came back to November Project. I just showed up again. I have been trying for weeks to recall why. What made me get out of bed that day? What was the impetus? I didn’t know anyone there yet. My friend had long ago stopped coming. I wasn’t in better shape. I didn’t particularly desire to be. I wish I remembered because that day, that decision, changed my life for the better in so many ways that I can’t possibly describe them all here in this blog. 

I started showing up. Running up and down hills. Up and down stairs. Doing push ups and burpees and bridge wars. I exercised with goats. I came but didn’t speak to anyone at the workouts for months. I didn’t make friends. But I felt part of the community. I began to look forward to those mornings. I started to run more than I walked. 

Eventually, I started speaking to people a little. It was hard not to. The members of the community beamed positivity each and every morning. I envied the stories they told about races they had done together and the challenges they had set for themselves. Marathons in Hawaii. Ultra races in the mountains. I remember when Jen ran 50km. I was gobsmacked. 

After a few years, I started to show up for the odd local race. And I joined a few offshoot groups. The Croissant Club Sunday run. Need for Speeds’ track work on Tuesdays. They were all free. They were all filled with people from NP. Everyone was so generous with their time, their advice and their encouragement. I went to a Summit. I ran a few more races. Somehow, over time, I have become someone who loves to run and enjoys meeting new people (it still makes me nervous). 

So what is it about November Project that makes it such a life-altering experience for some people? I think it is a combination of two things. Although I may have not been conscious of it that spring, I believe it is these two things that drew me back to it. 

The first is the challenge of it. It never gets easy to wake up on a cold morning, in the dark, and go out in the cold to run up and down stairs, whether it is your first time or your one hundredth. No matter what your physical fitness level is, running hills is always a challenge: a challenge to go a little bit further, to dig a little bit deeper. But afterwards, it feels good. It feels good to see the smiles, give the high fives and receive all the hugs. It feels good to witness others push themselves a little harder. To cheer them on as they go a little further and dig a little deeper. Over time it builds in you a sense that there are other challenges in your life that you can meet that maybe before you might have avoided or just not considered. It builds a desire in you to be a better person both for yourself and for the people around you.

The second aspect of November Project that makes it special is the community of people that make it up. I cannot say enough good things about you people. It starts with the leaders. Andrew, Jen, Nadim and now Rob are kind, generous, committed and authentic. They show up and give and give and give. And that ethic of caring and inclusion is carried and taken up by the members of the group. I have been witness to and the beneficiary of great acts of kindness and generosity. I know of a member who gave up his weekend to crew another member on a race whom he barely knew. I know of people supporting one another through breakups. People supporting each other through injuries and losses and disappointments and all the messes that come from being alive and engaged in life. And people celebrating one another’s’ triumphs and accomplishments. People giving back to their communities. There are so many stories. Although I don’t know half of the people in our community, I know that every person I have met has been someone I feel lucky to know. And this leads me to another thing I treasure about NP; it doesn’t matter how long you have been part of the community, every person is made to feel welcome. People join and within weeks it feels like they have always been there. Other people may have stopped coming but come again and instantly it is like they are family all over. It is a community that always gives more than it takes and it makes everyone better for it.

I am so grateful for November Project. Being a part of it has made me a better person in my personal life, my professional life and it has introduced me to so many people that I treasure. There are many people that I do not know as well as I would like, but I feel lucky to know each and every one of you. I feel a debt of gratitude for the leaders who make this group possible. I know that they do not like the spotlight being on them but, honestly, they have shaped this community into this weird, wonderful, beautiful thing that we all love. I am grateful for their efforts. And grateful that you all just show up. And continue to. Whether it is easy or hard. Through thick and thin. Rain or shine. Thank-you.

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