Jen Boucher was working as a registered practical nurse when she found out she needed a new kidney. Suddenly, her life dramatically changed — first with being on dialysis, then when she became a transplant recipient.
Through her journey of the past several years, Jen has found a silver lining to her situation: a stronger relationship with her family, an extended support network, and the strength to keep pushing forward — aided in part by the Alive to Strive Race.
Finding her footing, after a kidney disease diagnosis
“When I was on dialysis, I went from having a good salary to being on ODSP [Ontario Disability Support Program],” she explained. “Nobody knows about these things until you experience them.”
Jen grew up in Kapuskasing, Ont., with Alive to Strive Founder and President, Marie-Eve Chainey. When she discovered she also had kidney disease, Marie-Eve became a great support and resource for her, and she is the reason Jen participated in her first Alive to Strive Race in 2013 with her father, Fred Boucher.
What’s even more remarkable about her finish that year is that Jen had a kidney transplant just shy of three weeks before the race. Her father was her donor.
“There was only one part when I had to take a break and sit down; we were going uphill,” she said, explaining that she had a wheelchair with her as a backup. “But my dad insisted on pushing me — he wouldn’t let anyone else do it.”
Race becomes yearly tradition
The 2013 Alive to Strive Race was a turning point for Jen, and others noticed.
“That first race was like her beacon to recovery… a landmark in her recovery journey,” said Jon Dawe, a friend who has been running in support of Jen each year.
Jen added, “It was a milestone in my life, a good motivation to get started again.” Although she admitted with a laugh, “that first year was really rough.”
“I figure if I can do the 5km, next year I can do the 10km!”
Jen’s positivity and determination is fueled in part by a dedicated group of family members and friends who join her at the race each year. It has become a yearly tradition that Jon describes as a sort of annual reunion that brings together family and friends for a celebration of health and life.
“It’s a special feeling to do something in support of a friend and to celebrate her and how fortunate she is to be ‘alive and striving,’” he said.
A great race that gives back to the community
Jen admits she still has a lot of doctors’ appointments and challenges with her health, but she says she finds strength in her family, and by surrounding herself with positive people and reminding herself how fortunate she is to have had a kidney transplant. She says she will continue to do this run to encourage organ donation.
Jon admits that he has never known the heath challenges that Jen — or other kidney disease patients — have had to deal with. For that reason, the race also serves as a way that he can tangibly lend his support to the community.
“A race like this can be intimidating, if I didn’t know Jen, but I’m really glad I did it,” he said, explaining that he has participated in a wide variety of runs and walks over the years, many of the big ones like the Ottawa Race Weekend and the Army Run.
“One of the nice things about grassroots races like this one is that it brings people together and is very community-centred. Unlike the bigger races, the faces stick out more. I really like that all of the money raised goes back to support people in the community, not to corporate sponsors or to pay salaries. It’s a refreshing change of pace.”
Jen explained that the race has its own indescribable energy.
“You have to get there to feel the vibe. Everyone’s cheering you on. You can’t feel down in that moment. It’s inspiring and helps you forget what’s going on in your own life. No one’s judging,” she summarized.
Both Jen and Jon encourage others to experience the race for themselves. For them, it has become a not-to-miss event.
Jon shared, “I’m actually moving to Australia in May for a year. When I was looking at flights and deciding which flight to take, there was one the week before the race and one the week after. I decided to book the one the week after.”
The 2015 Alive to Strive Race is being held on Sunday, April 26, 2015, at the Terry Fox Athletic Facility/Hog’s Back Park in Ottawa, Ont., Canada. Visit www.alivetostrive.ca to register or to find out more. Early bird rates end on February 28!