The sMiles for Amanda Charity Run is organized by Women Empowered Unite Communities or We Unite, and is an annual Fun Run held in loving memory of a local runner and triathlete named Amanda Kelsall. Amanda was training to become a Medical Doctor. And during the drive on January 5th, 2014 from South River to the University of Ottawa to continue her Medical studies, her life was taken in a weather related motor vehicle accident. Amanda was 22.
I have known the Kelsall’s since 1998 when they settled in the community of Horseshoe Valley. My own connection with the Kelsall family was through church connections. It was when John, Sharon and their 3 girls Amanda, Debra and Jenna joined Willow Creek Baptist Church, a church that my own family had chosen to be a part of. Amanda would have around 7 when I first met her. It was amazing seeing her blossom through the years, putting others ahead of herself and embracing life to the fullest. It seemed that every person she connected with became a better person because of her. Her sudden death was a devastating loss for the Kelsall family, Amanda’s friends, church family, her faculty of medicine and previous school colleagues and the community of Horseshoe Valley.
Amanda had registered for the Ottawa Half Marathon in 2014 before she died. This would have been her third half marathon. And when Amanda’s University Faculty of Medicine colleagues heard that Amanda’s dad John was going to run this half marathon wearing Amanda’s bib they came up with the idea “why not join him”. And the sMiles for Amanda charity run was born. Amanda’s incredible legacy would be commemorated through this run.
The Horseshoe Run was initiated in 2016 in Amanda’s hometown of Horseshoe Valley, Ontario. This area is my own personal favourite places to go running. After my dad’s death when I was 15, the Copeland Forest, which is directly to the north of Horseshoe Valley was a refuge of emotional healing for me. And now that I am running, it has become my favourite training ground.
The Copeland Forest is also where my favourite ultra takes place, which is Pick Your Poison. And the amazing thing about the sMiles for Amanda (held two weeks after Pick Your Poison) is that the start is literally just a few hundred metres apart from Pick Your Poison. It is really cool to think that Amanda would have gone for family hikes in this very forest. And I am imagining she would have done some training for her own races there.
I ran the sMiles for Amanda fun run during it’s 1st year in 2016. I missed it the past 2 years, and now have returned on it’s 4th year. It was really wonderful to witness it’s growth. It continues to have that beautiful, laid back, friendly vibe. There are no bibs, no chip timing, no personal bests. Absent was hydration packs and vests, technical running gear, and timing devices such as Garmin’s and Suunto’s. There really is not any need for it.
Instead of fellow participants asking how my training was going, what races have I registered for, or what my time goal was during this race, there was amazing conversations of what an incredible event this was. It was actually extremely difficult to pick out the serious runners in the crowd. There were senior citizens, middle aged, young mom’s and dads, teenagers, and even younger grade school aged children. All to commemorate the legacy of Amanda Kelsall.
The many volunteers were so welcoming. There were several guest speakers including Amanda’s dad and mom John and Sharon Kelsall and a very emotional message from Melissa Nieuwhof Hurst. Melissa lost her son through an opioid accident. I can’t even imagine how difficult this has been for her. Every year there is a different charity supported though this run and the 2019 event at Horseshoe Valley supported those affected by the Opioid Crises in Simcoe County and further afield. Funds from the Horseshoe Valley event will provide rehabilitation for those with drug and alcohol addictions through Teen Challenge. The Ottawa run was to support True North Aid, a Canadian charity supporting Indigenous communities.
There was some great warm up exercises, a group photo on the golf course, and without any countdown everyone started out on the well marked and marshalled course on their own time. I loved seeing the new springtime hints of green along the course, a sign of new life to come. Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves so much. I was in awe of the many younger children who ran the 5k with so much energy.The friendly, smiling marshals not only pointed us in the right direction, they encouraged us on with messages filled with hope and inspiration on handmade signs. This was one of the many highlights for me. I know Amanda would have daily planted those seeds of faith, hope and love in person during her short time on earth. And those seeds continue to be planted through this run.
Before the run, a lady around my age out of the blue in conversation asked if I thought I’d be able to run the entire five kilometers. I could sense a bit of anxiety with this lady. Perhaps 5k might has been something never attempted before. My answer was “that I planned to run some and walk some”, which is what I actually did. I sensed some relief come over this lady. In this run there are no winners, no middle of the packers, no DNF’s (did not finish) and no DFL (dead finishing last). Instead I came away with the feeling that we ALL are champions. We all are here for a divine purpose. There is greatness within each one of us. We don’t know how much time we have left on earth, and it is so important for us to leave our own legacy with our own lives. And to Finish Strong!
The sMiles for Amanda charity run continues to grow each year largely because of word of mouth. I told a quite a few people what I was going to be doing that morning of May 11th, and a former work colleague named Michelle mentioned she really wanted to participate in this. Even though this was the first time she had ever heard of Amanda. Michelle and I ran and walked the course together and afterwards we went over to chat with Amanda’s Poppie, whom I had met on a couple of previous occasions.Amanda’s Poppie and Grammie were the last two people to see her alive. They had met Amanda and her special boyfriend Jonathan Taylor at a restaurant along the route that Amanda and Jonathan were taking back to Ottawa from the Taylor cottage in South River. Amanda’s Poppie shared in such vivid detail to Michelle and myself of those last few precious moments together. And as they all walked outside, there was a few flakes of snow coming down. Amanda’s Poppie took a jug of windshield washer antifreeze from his car and gave it to Jonathan. There was big hugs and big waves from Amanda’s Poppie and Grammie as Amanda and Jonathan went on their way.
That was the last time Amanda Kelsall was seen alive on earth. Absent from the body and into the presence of the Lord. Amanda’s Poppies final thoughts to my running friend Michelle and myself was “Make sure each and every day our loved ones know they are loved so much. Because you just never know”