As many of you know, a few years ago, I started a running group on my end of the city where there were no trail running groups. See a need, meet a need. About a year later, I was offered to take over a race, a trail race that I loved and that our community didn’t want to lose. See a need, fill a need.
Then, the comments started. Friends of mine – some close, others casual, mostly guys (can I say that?) – became contentious and difficult with me. The laughs and jokes were replaced with caustic notes any time they thought that my group or race didn’t know its place – “taking over my trails” was one of their comments. Another comment, most recently but not infrequently heard, was that I was “getting too ambitious”. This was strange to me and confusing. I mean, I was doing what others had been doing for decades, but they were not ambitious. I was. Hmm. You can rise up, but not among your own, and if you’re a woman rising up, hells bells!
Frequently, I was called egocentric and narcissistic. Sometimes, I was called much worse. Every time, it came always when something that I was responsible for had gone well. Truth be told, things going well were 99.9% because of the amazing people who showed up. If the longstanding community had been willing to welcome new people, they’d have met the same amazing people I met. It eventually became our running joke at home that if something we’d done went especially well and got any positive uptake, “Brace yourself, Sheryl. They’re gonna come after you for that.” And they always did.
I’m not saying that I haven’t earned some of the barbs sent my way. I am supremely flawed. But, I step up and speak up and I do the hard work and the heavy lifting, even when I’m tired and when I don’t want to and when I worry about the impacts to me and my family. I still do it. How many will stand in those shoes? How many would dare call that ambition or ego? Cowardice, I say! (Pardon me. I occasionally channel Winston Churchill. Bold and courageous. Also flawed and sometimes scared. We’re all the same.)
Somewhere in the midst of that, I began to actively advocate for the preservation of our river valley. With the no-time that I had left over from everything else, I joined coalitions and stakeholder groups. I could see that if we didn’t raise the profile of our river valley among trail users, we would eventually lose it. And now, I see people coming together, rising up in their own neighbourhoods. Momentum is building. It’s exciting.
So, when someone who walked in at the 11th hour simply cross-shares an event that I’ve sat on a committee to bring together, and everyone claps and cheers and praises them for “everything he’s done”, I’m not gonna lie: I get annoyed. Pride stirs and says – if not for the hard work behind the scenes, the challenges and sacrifices… And then I bite my tongue and check my intentions. Because if others get all the praise but the river valley is preserved, and people come together to support each other, and community grows, and there are trails for me and my children and their children to enjoy, and lonely people find friends, and the disconnected find connection, that was always the point. That’s what matters.