6' 7" marathon runner, Blake's heartwarming story of overcoming huge life obstacles, and finding healing joy in giving back. In his own words...
CAN'T STOP, WON'T STOP MOOVING
Like many others, my journey has been filled with heartbreak, adversity, joy and pure fulfillment. And to say I love running is an understatement.
After graduating from Memorial University of Newfoundland in 1998, I weighed in at 280 pounds. It was clearly time for action, so one foggy late spring evening, I decided to go for a run. I put on my basketball sneakers and took off.
Man, that first run sucked! I was breathing heavily, I was in pain, and I wanted to stop.
But I didn’t stop. I ended up running 2K that night. I thought, “OK, I can do this. Let’s try it again.”
The next day I strapped on my ankle weights and went out again. This time I did an interval session of a 1K run and a 1K walk. My fiancée and soon to be wife, Candice, came along. I soon got to 3, then 4 and eventually 8K. I began to run more and walk less. Candice stopped joining me on my run days, but I was determined to continue.
In 1999, the 5-year anniversary of my good friend, Steve's death, I thought it would be nice to give something back in his memory. Steve died while training for a triathlon. What better way to honor him, while giving me some motivation to accomplish a goal. So I started training. I got into the pool and borrowed a bike from a guy in St. Johns. Let’s face it, 6’7 triathletes are not the norm, so I figured I would get noticed. By August that year, I finished my first Sprint race at the ITU World cup in Corner Brook, Newfoundland. I love to swim and bike, but running always felt more natural to me and was something I could do year-round regardless of the conditions.
In 2000, Candice and I took what money we had from our wedding and moved to Fort McMurray. My weight had dropped 100 pounds in 5 months, not a huge surprise given all the running I had been doing. I continued doing various races, playing basketball and enjoying life. Then one day in 2004 that all changed.
HEARTBREAK AND HEALING
I was not feeling well at work. In a follow up with my doctor I was told that I possibly had a heart condition called “Sick Sinus Syndrome”. Basically, my heart's pacemaker was out of whack. I stopped playing basketball, scaled back on my training and 2004 to 2007 was a complete rollercoaster ride. After more tests, further diagnoses emerged, including the big one, “Dilated Cardiomyopathy”. You’ve heard of athletes dropping dead, right? Well, this the condition that most often causes that to happen; a disease of the heart muscle that can cause sudden cardiac death”. I continued to run, but in a safe manner, so no Triathlons.
I had regular visits to specialists in Edmonton, and by 2010 the doctors were sure I was on my way to recovery. My fundraising efforts continued and it was during that time that I visited Africa, teaching at a nursery in Moshi in the Kilimanjaro Region, and visiting HIV orphans. These kids filled my heart, so it seemed fitting to dedicate my first and only Triathlon race to these children. I signed up for the Ironman 70.3 in Pasadena, Newfoundland, and it was during that race, my heart acted up again.
I remember coming up the THC, on the second lap of the hill, and just not feeling good. I got off my bike and walked. At the top I got back on and finished the race. I felt ok after, but in the back of my mind, I knew something just wasn’t right. Tests showed that my heart was stable. I was told to be careful and watch it.
After representing my country as an Olympic Torchbearer for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, probably one of the greatest days of my life, unfortunately, my heart issues returned. It happened during a local race in Fort McMurray that summer; I found out my heart was stopping for up to 8 seconds. My cardiac team decided to implant a dual chamber pacemaker to see if it would help.
LIVING OOSOUL - RUNNING FOR MY HEROS
I had the surgery in 2011 and, voila! I had a new lease on life. From 2011 to 2016, I got myself involved in more fundraisers; I managed to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro with my son Nathaniel, as well as compete in few more races. For a bit of fun, I had started to dress as various characters while running; it was a great way to get noticed, increasing awareness for my causes.
It was during this time that Fort McMurray experienced devastating fires, which were the biggest natural disaster, to date, in Canadian history. We were forced to flee to Edmonton for 6 weeks, not knowing if our home, like 9000 others would survive. However, we were one of the lucky ones - our house was saved. Nevertheless, the effect this experience had on my mental health was traumatic. Once again, I used running as a means of therapy and a way to give back.
During that same year, I discovered that a family friend’s daughter, Tessa, was diagnosed with a rare form of lung cancer. I decided to race for her and her family and, since then, have done numerous races for Tessa, including 3 Boston Marathons. Running gives me a way to give back to those that cannot. I feel that sport is the best way to raise awareness to a cause that you are passionate about or for person that you love.
Please check out this wonderful organization, Running for RARE . My team of Unicorns; include, my running mate, Tracy (breast cancer), son Kaleb (autism), and Tessa, Shaylee, Steve, Ian and Shauna (who are all battling rare diseases). These amazing individuals inspire me to keep going on dark days and motivate me not to quit. They are my heroes. If you can run for others, just do it!
Since the Pandemic hit in 2020 I’ve continued to use running as a way to make others happy as well as keep my mental health on an even keel. It is a truly wonderful thing to see the smiles on peoples’ faces, young and old, as I run by dressed up as various characters and doing silly things. The biggest hit of all is when my alter ego, Buddy the Elf, appears. The kids love him!
Over the years I have suffered with numerous foot problems, most recently a longitudinal split in my peroneal brevis (left foot) as well as plantar fasciitis in both feet. As I’ve also been dealing with mental health issues for much of my life: anxiety, PTSD, ADHD, and a recent diagnosis of Autism, my foot pain has had a tendency to magnify them even more.
When I started having these issues again in late 2020 I went into panic. Why? Because running to me is my therapy and enables me to “reset” and deal with the demons in my head. It’s my time to let it out on the open road and trail. I needed to get help!
One day I was in physio and my physiotherapist suggested sandals. Having size 15 feet my options were limited. That is when I came across the wonders of OOFOAM and OOFOS Recovery Footwear. I was so excited to see they carried my size. They are my go to sandal for walking around the house after any run or even on my days off. I love my OOahh Sport Flex!!! They help me with therapy and healing, not only physically but mentally too. OOFOS have lessened the physical discomfort, which helps with my mental well-being. My feet are feeling a lot better, and I impatiently wait to become pain free.
Thanks for reading my story. Like any journey, it is changing daily and remains to be an amazing and rewarding one. I credit my joy to my family, running coach, physiotherapists, cardiac team, my unicorns…
…. and of course, I thank OOFOS, whose goal really is to “Make yOO feel better!”