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Leading By Example

Editor's Note: Shelley Ann Morris is Secretary of AEBC's Ottawa, Ontario, Chapter, and a 2006 graduate of Leadership Ottawa's training program. She submitted this item to Leadership Ottawa's website: www.leadershipottawa.org

The Long Journey Continues

We all have the ability to effect change and make the world a little better just by leading with our own example. This message was made very clear to me when I completed my 12th run up the steps of the CN Tower. It wasn't my fastest finish time, but this outing was one of my most inspired.

While living in Toronto in 1993, my sister, Colleen, heard about the CN Tower Stair Climb, an annual fundraiser for United Way and challenged me to try it. Now that she has moved back to Ottawa, we stay with her friend, Diane, and Diane's 14-year-old son, Ian, on the night before the event. Ian knew that I participated, despite my being visually impaired. This year, on his own initiative, he researched the climb on the website, downloaded the necessary forms, raised a sizeable amount in sponsors and decided to join me for this year's Public Climb on Saturday, October 20.

I was raised to believe that my disability is sensory and that physically I was just like anyone else--I have two good feet, a healthy heart, great endurance, and a vocabulary that does not include the words "pity" or "quit." My father and sister had participated in previous climbs and provided me with unflagging support and encouragement. My mother taught me to believe in myself and to see obstacles merely as challenges. With a strong team of family, friends and expert physical training provided at the Dovercourt Recreation Centre, I was destined to reach my goal of completing my race in under 21 minutes.

The many people whom I have had the good fortune to meet through Leadership Ottawa have also helped me to build confidence in myself and to constantly step out of my "comfort zone." LO is filled with those who have overcome tremendous obstacles and remain community-minded and positive, despite the challenges and circumstances they have faced. I thank each one for the valuable lessons they had taught me. Their spirit helped to propel me up, up up!

On the morning of the climb, the CN Tower in its enormity stood majestic and almost mocking, daring us to climb its steps in a respectable time. Ian had never participated before; I tried my best to give him some pointers as to what to expect, while at the same time trying to contain my own pre-event apprehension and excitement. I told him to take it at his own pace and to concentrate on the immediate step in front of him, and not to get too freaked out about the many, many seemingly endless flights of stairs that lay ahead. Once inside the tower itself, he was of immense help guiding me, as it is always difficult to find the small entrance to the stairwell amidst security personnel and numerous other participants jockeying for that first step.

We climbed at the same pace, counting the large, orange numbers painted on the wall at the top of each flight. To break the monotony, we climbed some flights two steps at a time. We negotiated our way around bottlenecks of participants who were too exhausted to keep up with us. We took a 10-second break at floor 72, approximately halfway. The heat in the stairwell was intense; the railings on the staircase were wet with perspiration. At about flight 130, we started counting down to the home stretch. We could hear the cheering and clapping at the top of the stairwell. Likely buoyed up by this, my young competitor got a sudden burst of energy, sped straight to the exit, and got there a full seven seconds before me!

Family and the glory of completing the 1776-step journey were awaiting us at the top. After taking some pictures, we all took that plummet in the elevator back down to the ground, and proudly collected our bright red event t-shirts, with our times carefully printed on for all the world to see. I know that Ian would have had a proud moment or two when he returned to school. I would certainly have a few peacock moments of my own at work.

As grown folks, we can do a lot to encourage those younger than ourselves. With childhood obesity on the rise and other lifestyle-induced diseases appearing at younger ages, we may inspire them by eating well, keeping fit and getting them involved in athletic pursuits. As people with disabilities, we can also demonstrate to others by our example how having an impairment need not stop us from living full, active lives.

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