I can’t sleep tonight. It’s been a few hours since I received the news that my dear friend Amy Alain has passed after a nine-month long battle with lung cancer, leaving behind a loving husband and two of the sweetest children you’ve ever met. I hadn’t even known Amy for long, only about a year and a half, but she has made a massive, and lasting impact on my life.
It was just after dawn on a Sunday morning in early November and a premature winter storm had blown in a few inches of fresh snow, quieting the river valley with its heavy blanket. I was running on a familiar trail, in the Whitemud Ravine, when I heard a ‘Good morning! Great day for a run!’ in a cheerful voice behind me. She introduced herself and I picked up my pace to match her faster one so we could chat. We traded stories of races we had done, goals for the upcoming season and as our talk turned to more personal details, we discovered our kids go to the same school, they were looking to move into our neighbourhood and we shared several mutual friends. ‘Ah ha’ I thought, ‘a new trail sister’. How little I knew at the time, how this would play out.
Amy loved the river valley and her smile when she was exercising in nature was infectious. She was a personal trainer and hosted year-round bootcamps outdoors, in public spaces that were welcoming to children, leaving no excuse for any of her friends and clients to get out there and get moving. And certainly she inspired everyone she met with her boundless energy and positivity. “No cold weather, only soft people” she loved to say as she would head out onto the snowy trails. I can probably count on one hand the times I saw her in clothing other then run gear, she was always just headed to, or just coming back from a run or a workout outside.
Within a month of first meeting, Amy, myself and another friend Tania, were signed up for a 100-mile relay happening the upcoming summer. We also all signed up to run 25k at Winter River Valley Revenge in January, where she ran a fantastic race and placed 3rd.
Conditions were icy that day, and the micro spikes she wore contributed to a foot injury that sidelined her for a few weeks after the race. She had planned to run a half marathon in Jasper in April, but after a few cautious runs on her healing foot, decided to drop down to the 10k event. In the days leading up to their trip, she mentioned a nagging cough that had developed in recent weeks and was worried that it would affect her performance. She accepted the fact that she wouldn’t be setting a personal best that day and went on to enjoy a beautiful race in the mountains.
After several frustrating attempts at runs, and the insistent mothering by those of us who loved her, Amy relented and went to the doctor to get her cough looked at. What followed was a series of nightmare test results and months of the worst-case scenario unfolding. It was lung cancer and it was moving fast. But Amy was determined to fight and continued to exercise, even running at times, with unshakable positivity, on a mission to enjoy every day to its fullest. She started a social media campaign that went viral, called Lunges for Lung Cancer; challenging others to do 58 lunges, one for each person lung cancer claims each day. Towards the end, even as lunges were incredibly difficult, she would still climb out of her hospital bed to record a few lunges, her movements painful and her muscles atrophied.
In her last days, as I leaned in close to help adjust her to a new position in her bed in palliative care, I told her I loved that she was wearing her Spartan Race t-shirt. She smiled, and through her drug induced fog, told me she planned to run another one one day. Through my tears, I whispered she has inspired so many people to be better versions of themselves and to live healthier lives and before she dozed back asleep she said she didn’t understand why anyone found her inspiring. Oh Amy, if only you could see how you changed us all.
When the run community loses one of its own, it comes with a particularly painful blow to the gut. Amy, like other runners we’ve lost, was young, super fit, and made a million healthy choices every day. She did everything right, yet her death serves as a painful reminder that none of us are immune, that no amount of miles logged or sunny days on the trail can protect us from our own mortality. Somehow, the intensity of running brings with it the exhilarating and terrifying paradox that anything is possible, yet that it can all be taken away from you in an instant. Though we build our bodies to be strong, they are still incredibly and devastatingly fragile.
While Amy’s body grew weak, her mental toughness persisted right until the end. I hope that in the hours she lay sleeping her mind was already drifting to places free from her physical suffering. Places where she could cuddle her children, walk with her husband and run the trails she loved so much. Her suffering is over. She has crossed the finish line of a cruel and horrifying ultramarathon called lung cancer, an ending that leaves us all furious at the unfairness of it all. Soon, I will head out on a run, through the snow on her favourite trail, to grieve her loss and celebrate her life the only way I know how, the only way any of us know how, with one foot in front of the other.
She had big plans to run a 100 mile race this summer. Those plans were prayers for more time that have gone unanswered when she died on Feb 22, 2019. I sincerely hope that now she can run forever and feel no pain. Run on my dear Amy. Run on.