2013 IMPACT Heroes

What will you do this year to make a difference in your life and the lives of others?

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 — IMPACT Heroes.

Jeremy Clegg | Josh Dueck | James Lawrence | Joanne Morgan
Janelle Morrison | Benard Onsare | Dave Stark | Diane Van Deren


PHOTOGRAPHY BY CLAUDIA KATZ

JANELLE MORRISON | IMPACT HERO | FEARLESS
Ironman triathlete Janelle Morrison sits in the front row of a Calgary movie theatre watching two years of her life after a horrific car crash play out in front of her on a giant screen.

Here is a woman ignoring the coded message from the drips, ticks and beeps of an intensive-care hospital suite that seemed to say life as an athlete, and almost life itself, was over. Despite doubting doctors and protective family, Morrison could think only about when she would race again.

The intense single-mindedness of her focus on recovery and competing again is captured in the documentary A Second Chance: The Janelle Morrison Story, which premiered in Calgary on Nov. 21, the second anniversary of her crash.

“It’s strange to know the thoughts and feelings I actually had — because it was about me and I lived it,” says Morrison, who came back to Canada for the film after three weeks on a Mexican beach recharging her emotional batteries. “To see it at a bird’s-eye view from an objective perspective, as opposed to the subjective perspective I’ve had for the past two years, was actually quite overwhelming.”

Director Rob Kelly, also a triathlete, met Morrison and began recording her story days after her Toyota Matrix was slammed head-on by a spinning van on an icy highway near Revelstoke, B.C.

“It took three hours to cut her out of the car. They wired, screwed, braced, shoved and pulled her body back together and had to put her in a coma for a week,” says Kelly.



For two years Kelly made a camera part of Morrison’s life; at the hospital, at the gym, the track, the pool. He filmed her learning to walk again, learning to swim again, getting rid of her crutches. He followed her to training camps in California, in New Mexico and he set up a camera on her computer so she could record a video diary.

“I wanted to make it as easy as possible for Janelle to share whatever she wanted with me. And, pretty quickly, our relationship grew to a point where she’d share almost daily updates through diaries, phone calls and footage we shot while following her around,” says Kelly. “I learned what it means to look inside, face something too big to even comprehend, and gradually chip away at it every day until, two years later, you’ve suddenly done the impossible.”

When you witness Morrison in physiotherapy trying to straighten her ankle, trying to bend her legs, trying to run barely 10 minutes, in pain, frustrated, angry and lonely, she is hardly the picture of an elite athlete. When you feel the commitment it took to achieve each small step, you know she is special.

“It’s a hard thing to be realistic and to aim high at the same time, but I’d rather just aim high and deal with the realism later,” she says in the film. “Recovery has been far more exhausting than I could ever imagine. Much more than an Ironman.”

The first six months, nothing happened. She was walking. She was sort of running. She was biking, but not very fast. But her resolve never wavered. She reconnected with her coach, Paulo Sousa, and, step by step, stroke by stroke, Morrison elevated her game to elite status, returning to competition with a podium finish after 9:28 of racing 226K at the 2012 Ironman Canada in her hometown of Penticton, B.C.

“The change that’s developing in me right now really occurred when I hit the line at Ironman Canada in third place. It solidified my comeback and that was really what I wanted to do,” she says. “I wanted to get back to racing at the professional level and when I hit that line on Aug. 26, it was like I achieved that. Ironman Canada was a finish line in many ways. I really felt that I had accomplished my huge goals and now I can enjoy being back. For so long it was like, ‘You need to do this, you need to do this.’ When you’ve done it, it softens everything.

“I spent so much time getting my physical body in shape for racing I didn’t spend enough time focusing on my soul. Now the most important thing for me is finding balance.”

That’s Morrison’s challenge today — learning how to live again. She’s 35, a marathon champion who turned to pro triathlon just four years ago.

“When I strive to attain something I am determined to do it. I’m striving now for balance, approaching things in a different way,” she says. “My entire focus —  everything — revolved around learning how to race again and there were so many other aspects of life that I truly didn’t even see happening.”


IRONMAN CANADA PHOTOGRAPHY BY JORDAN BRYDON

Morrison will be working with a new coach in 2013. With scars etched into her head, abdomen, elbow and leg that map the severity of her injuries, she’s taking her time to plot the next course for her training and race schedules.

“You can strangle a dream. I have to focus more on being happy and beware the intensity,” says the woman who wears a neck charm engraved with the word FEARLESS. “For two years, I didn’t focus on my mental or emotional self. It’s time to reflect.

“I could have been dead and I haven’t even acknowledged that. I’ve been so busy trying to get back and I’ve missed the fact that I’m back.”

— Dave Kelly & Chris Welner

Other IMPACT Heroes
Jeremy Clegg | Josh Dueck | James Lawrence | Joanne Morgan
Janelle Morrison | Benard Onsare | Dave Stark | Diane Van Deren