Finish lines and starting points
What a joyful morning I had on the radio today.
It's the season of accomplishment in Manitoba and a time to be proud and say it out loud.
Today on the show it was all about finish lines and starting points, and it strikes me that in many ways, they are the same thing.
The literal "finish line" story that I'm thinking about is the one told by 41-year-old SandiReimer, who competed in the Super Run at the Manitoba Marathon over the weekend.
In case you missed the show, you might be wondering why we featured someone who wasn't doing the full race. Well, in my humble opinion, Sandi might as well have run the full 26.2 miles, since she has one leg and no prosthetic.
She told me that her amputation, which happened at birth, is so high up her thigh that her hip joint is affected and she has nothing left of a knee.
For Sandi, a running prosthetic isn't an option. She ran the whole race on her crutches.
As if that weren't enough, Sandi mentioned that this is her 16th race over the past year, as she moves one step at a time toward her goal of completing 100 races. Amazing.
I will admit, however, that beyond the physical accomplishment and mental drive that it would take to do such a thing, I was even more inspired when I heard about Sandi's past.
Brought up with abuse, no support
Some people living with disabilities are brought up with support systems that teach them to see their abilities and not to let anything hold them back. Sandi is not that person. She had to find it in herself.
This incredible woman told me that her birth parents physically abused her from the age of two.
During a TedX talk in Winnipeg last week, she told the crowd that her parents would just throw her outside in the cold to fend for herself, even though she was just a child who couldn't walk on her own.
Eventually, her parents gave her up for adoption and at the age of 14, Sandi bounced from foster home to foster home and survived sexual abuse.
So what do you do with a history like that? You run 100 races, that's what you do.
"When it comes to adversity, I really believe that if you let the people who have done things to you, if you let that win over your life, it will take away your victory," she said.
"How proud are you of yourself?" I asked her.
"You know," she replied, "I don't even think of it as being proud of myself. I just think of it as doing the best I can with what I've got and just doing my best to just knock it out of the park."
I'm pretty sure we haven't heard the last of SandiReimer.
The other person who really blew me away with their story of accomplishment today is PJ Homeniuk.
Today, PJ is an 18-year-old man who is getting ready to graduate from Children of the Earth High School with two scholarships waiting for him.
But on paper, PJ had about the same odds as Sandi of reaching this point.
We first met him when CBC did a story on his family eight years ago. At 10 years old, PJ already knew what it meant to be responsible for other people.
His mother lives with a disability and he and his younger sister grew up in extreme poverty in Winnipeg's North End.
One summer, they literally lived on a park bench. They were hungry, homeless and surrounded by violence. The temptation to take the wrong path was literally everywhere.
PJ, however, was really, really, really smart. Perhaps what was even more important than being smart was that deep down, he knew it.
The opportunity that let the world see it came when a University of Manitoba professor named Francis Amara set up an inner-city lab to get kids hooked on science.
Amara met PJ and gave him a university-level science test which, at 10 years old, he aced. And the rest, as they say, is history.
PJ told me today that it was crucial to have someone believe in him.
"Him [Amara] saying that out loud kind of sparked something inside me that I can really do this, even from where I'm from," PJ said.
"It's kind of like, 'OK, keep your head focused or you're not going to get to your goal or what you want to do in life.'"
Not only did PJ keep studying and achieving, he also taught himself multiple languages and learned how to play guitar on his road to completing Grade 12.
In a few weeks, Amara will be at PJ's graduation ceremony, cheering him on.
And while he might appreciate the support, PJ doesn't seem to need it in the same way that he did when he was 10 years old.
The self-determined young man who walked into our CBC studio to tell his story can now find everything he needs to succeed inside himself.
I asked him the same question that Sandi Reimer faced earlier in the show: "Are you proud of yourself?"
"I'm definitely proud of myself," he said. "It's been a long, long, eight years and I'm just kind of hoping for the future and what's in store for me."
Finish lines and starting points. They really are a beautiful thing.