Running for a Cause

One Student’s Journey in Memory of Her Grandmother

  • Camille Bernard is preparing to run the New York Marathon in 2016 for cancer research. Photo Nikolas Litzenberger

  • Courtesy Cancer Research Society

She struggles to pace her breathing—each lungful cutting shorter than the last. The self-awareness only makes it worse. Is the treadmill getting faster? Ten kilometres. She feels like her lungs are going to collapse. How is she ever going to run 42?

Two years into her university experience at Concordia, studying business with a minor in Spanish, Camille Bernard is preparing for a big leap: she wants to run the New York Marathon in 2016.

It isn’t a new year’s resolution, or a milestone in a fitness program she’s undertaking. In fact, it isn’t even for herself—this goal is in memory of her grandmother, Geneviève Gadbin, who was something of a mother to Bernard.

“When I was little, my mom wasn’t around much, due to business trips,” Bernard said. “I spent a lot of time with my grandma and grandpa and we had a special relationship. I could tell her everything.”

Gadbin came from a low-income suburban Paris home and had always been fond of sports. Gadbin’s husband—Bernard’s grandfather—ran some 30 marathons in his time.
It was a diagnosis that changed everything.

“In January 2014, we discovered that we couldn’t save her,” Bernard said. Her grandmother, who she affectionately called “Mamie,” had been battling skin cancer for eight years at that point. “I couldn’t be there when she died, so that was really hard for me.”

“I know I can do this for my grandma, but there will be days it’s going to be hard and when I don’t think I can do it.” — Camille Bernard

Instead, Bernard has taken to making a tribute to her late loved one. Her goal of running the New York Marathon is not only a personal challenge—she is working to raise $5,000 in donations for the Cancer Research Society.

“This is my goodbye to her,” she said.

The CRS is a Canadian not-for-profit organization that funds research of all types of cancer. It promotes involvement through its CRS Challenges, a series of expeditions and fundraising campaigns that can be undertaken by anyone who wants to get involved.

Destinations this year range from trekking Machu Picchu and Icelandic landscapes to climbing Mount Kilimanjaro or a Bolivian volcano.

“This cause is very important,” Bernard said. “I really hope more people get involved.”

The tribute is pushing Bernard’s boundaries.

“I’ve never run a marathon,” she said. “I like to run, but I’ve never done a competition. I’ve never even run 10K.”

Instead, Bernard is regularly involved in equestrianism at the St. François stables in Laval. A lot of preparation is going into the upcoming race.

“I’ve started seeing a coach because I can’t do this alone,” Bernard said. “Ten kilometres is one thing, but I don’t want to get injured running 40.”

Hyongok Kent is a personal trainer who specializes in Chi Running—a T’ai Chi-influenced running technique, supposed to reduce risk of injury. With 20 years of personal training experience and some twelve marathons under her belt, she is hopeful of getting
Bernard on the right track.

“It’s definitely challenging, because she’s never run,” Kent said. “But I think her attitude toward what she’s trying to do is really great.”

Kent pointed out the risk involved, noting that many people think they don’t have to learn how to run efficiently. It’s her belief that it is essential in taking on such a challenge.

“Running shouldn’t be done through ego, even if you have a good cause,” she said. “I’d like her to run without being hurt.”

The challenge is not only a physical one.

“I also have to prepare myself mentally,” Bernard said. “I know I can do this for my grandma, but there will be days it’s going to be hard and when I don’t think I can do it.”

Her backbone in this undertaking is the support she gets from her peers.

“The most important thing to me is the support of my family and friends, and people who hear my story and want to help me,” she said.

Bernard has also quickly realized that raising money for a cause can be easier said than done.

“You really have to reach people one by one,” she said. She hopes to get people involved in Montreal. “I’ve been thinking of making an event—perhaps a small donation marathon. I just want to thank this country for hosting me, and I want to give something in return.”

Balancing her time has proven a challenge. In addition to her studies, Bernard works part-time as a French tutor.

“It’s been allowing me to put some money on the side toward the charity,” she said.

No matter the difficulty of the challenge, Bernard is hopeful. She has reached 75 per cent of her $5,000 goal, and continues to train.

“People can reach their goal—if they want to do something that they really take to heart, they have to do it, even if it seems impossible,” she said. “I’m a small girl, and this marathon is crazy for me. The most important thing is to be surrounded by people you love and that support you.”

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