On June 16th, local French teacher Julie Vallieres will hit the pavement in a gruelling 100 km run in Niagara.
Runners set off at 6:30 am from Niagara-on-the –Lake hoping to make it back before dark when the race, which has a 14 hour time limit, wraps up. They travel 50 kilometers south to Horseshoe Falls before turning around to head back to their starting point. Most of the course is on a public trail consisting of a paved bike path that runs along the Niagara Parkway. While there is little traffic, runners will have to keep an eye out for the occasional intersection as well as other trail users.
This is a run that requires training, and in the last few months Vallieres has been hitting the pavement (and the hardtop on Zion Line) to get ready. To date she has completed two 50 km runs, the most recent one called Pick your Poison that took place on April 28th at Horseshoe Valley. Last weekend she was in Ottawa as a contestant in the Lumberjack Challenge where she ran in four events over two days covering a total distance of 59.2 km.
What, you might ask, is driving this woman?
Julie began to run at age 27 at the suggestion of a friend as a way to relieve stress. Running gave her some relief, allowing her to clear her thoughts and reduce her anxiety. Over the years Vallieres has waged a fierce battle against depression and anxiety until her perfectionist tendencies landed her in the hospital in 2014, forcing her to take an extended leave from work. This hospital stay was a turning point. Equipped with a new diagnosis and treatment and the support of the local Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), Julie found her way forward, finding new strength and the inspiration for a new mission: to break the silence and stigma of depression and encouraging people to be open and talk about mental illness.
Returning to work after a year-long medical leave, she launched a mental health initiative at St. Peter’s Catholic Secondary School called “Open Your Mind ”. The program is designed to help their school community deal with this invisible but pervasive illness. Students develop events and activities aimed at destroying the stigma associated with mental illness through education, open communication and the promotion of a healthy lifestyle. In its second year, the program continues to offer tools to the high school community to promote raise awareness about mental health issues.
Running has also provided Julie with opportunities to give back to the local CMHA that was instrumental in her recovery. Her 100 km Ultra Race proceeds will be directed to this organization.
In the meantime, Julie continues to recharge through running. With a full-time job and a family that includes three teenagers, she tries to get her training in early, and some mornings she begins at 4 am! She persists with this commitment not just for her benefit but also to provide a role model for her children. She wants them to see her struggle and push through her challenges, so they understand the work required to get what you want. She sees evidence that her message is getting through.
To learn more about services provided by the CMHA or to sponsor Julie on her run, visit https://cmhahkpr.ca/get-involved/donate/. KG