On being courageous

Moments of bravery don’t always happen during a big game, race or event. They happen in the quiet of our everyday lives, when we choose to do something extraordinary for ourselves.

Last year I left a role in corporate communications to tackle something daunting. Africa fit the bill. I flew to Kenya with an open heart to train at high altitude with the greatest runners on the planet. I left with strong legs, a sound mind and love for the red soil that plastered my shoes.

In East Africa, I was right where I needed to be: chasing my best and the opportunity of a lifetime. I had many moments of self-doubt, but I tackled them with positivity and the simple automatic reflex of putting on my shoes. However, the moments of bravery in this story do not lie in in my day-to-day adventures, but in the many months before I even stepped foot in Kenya. 

The scariest moment - the one where I felt most alive - happened in my kitchen in Toronto when I booked my flights. Until then, the dream of running in Kenya was simply that: A dream. But in that moment it became a reality. And that felt incredibly powerful. Everyday we are faced with the choice of how we should spend our days. Moments of bravery don’t always happen during a big game, race or event. They happen in the quiet of our everyday lives, when we choose do something extraordinary for ourselves.

After weeks of running with the Kenyans, with sore feet and expanded horizons, I took on my final challenge: Mount Kilimanjaro. The night before my trek, after all the preparations, I sat down alone at a table for one surrounded by groups of people. I wondered what the heck I was getting myself into - on my own. Unanswered questions raced through my mind during that meal. I was nervous and scared, and when I went back to my room I cried on the floor next to the gear I had to pack. After a few moments I picked myself up and made a decision. I was all in. There was no turning back, because I believed - I knew - I would make it. 

No one tells you how hard it is going to be. No one. In my darkest moments on the mountain, I reached back for that moment before my trek to find the motivation to keep moving forward. But in truth, it was not the act of moving forward when I was truly brave. It was in those moments, months before, when I booked my trip to East Africa and decided to tackle Kilimanjaro. Moments of pure vulnerability and commitment. The type of moments that allow us to be brave in our pursuits.

During my lifetime I've often wondered, What is the best way to live? And I can tell you now the the answer is simple. Live courageously. I had travelled to Africa five years before, but the 'me' back then would never have planned a trip like this. Thrown herself into running the way I did. Tossed her fears aside and tackled that mountain. I've changed; I'm a different me now, in a self-affirming way. To travel is to live, to love, to be brave. To put one foot in front of the other. To keep moving forward and explore the moments that define us.

Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious. And however difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at. It matters that you don’t just give up.
— Stephen Hawking

I hope that every woman and girl finds the strength and courage to climb their own mountain, whatever that may be. When you get there, you’ll know why. 

 Kate with mount kilimanjaro in the background

Kate with mount kilimanjaro in the background

As a former Women’s NCAA Division I Hockey player, Kate Gustafson loves sweaty pursuits. She has completed the Everest Base Camp Trek in Nepal, spent six weeks training at high altitude in Kenya, climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, and raced ten marathons with a personal best time of 2:50:06. She is also a proud Guinness world record holder for distance run on a treadmill by twelve women over twelve hours. Kate grew up on Lake of the Woods in Northwestern Ontario. She writes a blog, runs her own online coaching business for runners and spent a year travelling around the world—an undertaking that ultimately inspired many more adventures. She is committed to empowering girls through sport, with her truest passions being running, writing and traveling.