IMPACT Hero Diane Van Deren
If you need a nudge, meet our IMPACT Heroes, incredible people doing incredible things in the sport and fitness world. We asked readers for nominations and received stories of amazing people from Halifax to Vancouver Island and into Utah and the Colorado Rockies. We selected eight people with inspiring stories who we think are true heroes â€” IMPACT Heroes.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY TIM KEMPLE
DIANE VAN DEREN | IMPACT HERO | RELENTLESS
Diane Van Derenâ€™s ultra-running competitors know not to follow her to the finish line. Her sense of direction sucks. Yet they marvel at the 52 year-oldâ€™s relentless stamina and her message that nothing, even epilepsy, stands in the way of a dream or finding the finish line.
A state champion golfer who played pro tennis in her 20s, Van Derenâ€™s athletic career was seemingly cut short when she began suffering grand mal seizures and had to leave the tour. The effects were devastating for the young mother of three, but she developed a sense that alerted her a seizure was coming on. To ward it off, she would grab her shoes and head out to run for miles on her familyâ€™s Colorado ranch. She became one of the worldâ€™s top ultra-runners, keeping her medical condition secret from fellow competitors and race organizers.
â€śI really wanted to prove myself as an athlete first rather than be stigmatized as someone with epilepsy,â€ť Van Deren says. Then, with the title of ultra-runner of the year in 2005 and at the urging of children with epilepsy, she made her story public. â€śI felt that was my time. I proved myself. I felt that was my podium to talk.â€ť
More than 2.4 million North Americans suffer from epilepsy. Van Deren runs many races in their honour, also devoting time to meeting them and sharing inspiration. At 37, doctors isolated the cause of Van Derenâ€™s epilepsy and removed a kiwi-sized piece of her brain. She hasnâ€™t had a seizure since, but there have been neurological side-effects, including memory loss and difficulty tracking time and direction. She also doesnâ€™t feel pain like most people, a useful quirk as an ultrarunner who taxes her body to its limits.
Van Deren has won throughout North America, including the Canadian Death Race and the Yukon Arctic ultra, running 430 miles across frozen tundra pulling a provisions sled.
â€śRunning ultras gives me a platform to share my story and give people hope and not give up in the midst of their trials,â€ť says Van Deren. â€śI feel Iâ€™ve been given a gift for a reason and, if I didnâ€™t share it, it would be very selfish.â€ť Â
Tracy Garneau, 43, an endurance running champion from Jasper, Alta., and Van Derenâ€™s teammate on The North Face trail running team, marvels at her friendâ€™s accomplishments and inspirational drive.
â€śSheâ€™s beat the odds and come back from horrific surgeries,â€ť says Garneau. â€śShe has done some of the hardest ultras in the world and she does it with a smile on her face. Sheâ€™s super-genuine and probably the nicest person I know.â€ť Van Deren and Garneau hope to climb Mount Logan, Canadaâ€™s highest peak, this year.
Look for Garneau to read the map on the way up.
â€” Chris Welner