I don't consider myself a climber and I'm not overly competitive by nature. While I do enjoy a view from the top, a race involving stairs to get there has never been on my bucket list.
All of this changed in March when I was having dinner with close friends and after recently learning one had been diagnosed with cancer.
"These people mean the world to me. They are friends and mentors who have invested in my leadership, and in me personally. They are also deeply invested in Wellspring – long-time supporters, donors, advocates, and volunteers," I said.
During the dinner, I shared that my family has also recently been impacted by cancer – my father recently received a diagnosis. The conversation drifted to the hard truth … one in two will experience cancer in their lifetime. The reality hit home … then took an upward turn.
In this circle of friends, when it comes to cancer, Wellspring is never far from the conversation. All parties at the table would attest to the fact that one naturally leads to the other.
"We were talking about Wellspring’s signature event, the Firefighter Stairclimb Challenge in Calgary on June 11," I said. The only way for civilians to participate in the event is to raise a significant amount of donations and "challenge the chief" with a race to the top. My friend facing cancer said, "Natalie – you should sign up for it! If you Challenge the Chief, I’ll support you by making a sizable donation."
"It scared the heck out of me. I mean, this is really out of my comfort zone. But at the same time, I was struck by this riveting thought that instead of just being bad news, cancer can be transformative. It can be a conduit of change for the person diagnosed, and for their family and friends," I said.
In that split second, I was overwhelmed with inspiration and I knew I would choose transformation.
Calgary’s Tallest Tower
Brookfield Place became my new epic adventure. Less than a week later, on my birthday, I signed up for the challenge, then I set in motion a rigorous routine of healthy eating, vigorous training, and fundraising.
"I've made some big adjustments to my diet and I'm already much healthier for it. My friends are all on board – joining me on mountain hikes and helping me get in shape for this," I said. "I'm doing this for my dad, and for my friend, and for everyone else facing cancer. And just as importantly, I'm doing this for me. I want to seize this opportunity to transform into a better, healthier me."
Beyond Regional Boundaries
I'm eagerly anticipating the upcoming Firefighter Stairclimb Challenge, which brings participants from all across the province, and even beyond. I can't wait to be part of this event that promises to unite individuals from throughout Alberta.
You see, I was born and raised in Red Deer, and I proudly boast loyalty to both the Oilers and the Flames. But what really grounds my perspective is my centrally located roots. I've been involved with Wellspring, a nonprofit organization, and as one of the Wellspring leaders, I worked tirelessly to bring Wellspring Calgary and Wellspring Edmonton together. In the fall of 2022, we successfully merged them into one united and more inclusive province-wide organization called Wellspring Alberta.
The merger has been an incredible success, especially considering the circumstances. The pandemic forced us to reevaluate our business model at Wellspring. Before COVID-19, we relied on physical Wellspring houses in Edmonton and Calgary for our service delivery. But when those had to shut down, we knew we had to find a solution for the people we served. In just one weekend, we moved all our programs online. With the implementation of online programming, the regional boundaries between Edmonton and Calgary no longer made sense. That's when the brave decision to merge into one provincial organization took shape.
Now, Wellspring Alberta is serving more than 100 communities across the province and beyond, and it continues to grow every day. It's been a journey of adaptation and resilience, but we've managed to provide support and resources to those affected by cancer, regardless of their location.
As I train and mentally prepare for the June 11 stairclimb, I'm keenly aware that cancer has already changed me. It's a reality that surrounds us all, and we can't hide from it. Cancer will inevitably impact each of us in some way or another. For me, it became a personal choice of how I would engage with it.
That's why I've decided to raise as much money as possible for Wellspring Alberta, an incredible organization that helps hundreds of people survive the emotional effects of cancer. I'm pushing myself to get in the best shape I can, not just for the stairclimb but also for my own health and well-being. And when the day comes, I'll climb with all my heart, pushing through the fatigue and challenges, knowing that I'm making a difference.
I truly believe that there's a light at the top of Brookfield Tower, both metaphorically and literally. And one way or another, I'll reach it. If you're interested in supporting my race to the top and contributing to this important cause, you can donate here. Together, we can make a meaningful impact in the lives of those affected by cancer.