Our big day had arrived!

We sprang out of bed at 6am full of excitement and trepidation for what lay ahead. It was 1st October 2017 - the day of the Great Glasgow run. This was our first ever half marathon and first fundraiser for Avalon - a charity that would provide Parental Support and Respite Services to families supporting someone with autism. To say this was more than a Half marathon was an understatement.

The dark days - Progression to Regression

2 years earlier our worlds were turned upside down with the news our only daughter Ava had autism. This was a major blow for my husband and I who were both struggling to come to terms with the diagnosis. Recent research conducted by St Catherine’s University on the impact autism has on families, found that upon hearing about their child’s diagnosis, “52% of parents felt relieved, 43% felt grief and loss, 29% felt shock or surprise, and 10% felt self-blame” (Banach, Iudice) Conway, & Couse, 2010). As a parent, I can relate this and I believe my husband and I fell into 43% of parents that experienced a great sense of grief and loss.

Perhaps this was due to the fact Ava had been developing normally for 15-18months before the regression robbed her of all the first words we had learned together. Or this was just a natural response to our expectations of parenthood going up in smoke before our very eyes. Either way, we were both suffering from mental and physical pain and we were masking signs of depression from everyone around us.

Stepping Stones to Growth

This changed when I decided I could no longer tolerate a life of sadness and unhappiness. I reached out to a life and business coach and embarked on a journey of personal growth and self-discovery.  The first three months of coaching was spent discussing myself as we tried to clear the brain fog that came from prolonged and suppressed feelings of grief and loss.  We completed an exercise that involved recording my emotional state every hour on the hour, morning through to night for three months. This request appeared to be a little extreme to begin with but I committed to the process as was desperate for change.

The results were startling, I rarely experienced an emotional state scored as 10, which was amazing and most of my scores sat around 1-5. It also revealed that key parts of my life were overloaded with focus such as career other areas were completed starved of any attention. What was even more surprising was I had just gotten used to feeling this way following the diagnosis.  When I started to analyse the patterns and triggers that led to the drop in state, it became clear that I was allowing external events, people and situations to determine my daily happiness.   

Happiness – you have to make it happen.

Over the years I have read many personal growth books and found the most successful people in life such as Richard Brandson, Tony Robbins, Bob Proctor, and Vishen Lakhani all have strategies in their lives to create and manage their happiness. They did not just leave this to chance. They committed to daily actions to maintain the optimum mind-set for happiness and productivity.  Vishen referred to this as ‘state of flow’ on a youtube video about happiness being the new productivity.  He characterised flow as a supreme state of creativity and joy that works similar to the laws of attraction.  To achieve this you need two things;

  1. To be happy in the present and enjoy where you are now.
  2. To have a clear vision for the future.

 I did not have either of these things but I was working with a coach who was committed to helping me achieve both.       

Foundations of Growth

We developed a plan for change, staring with improving my health and well-being through nutrition, exercise, meditation and studying personal growth strategies. I removed things from my life that were no longer serving me like coffee, wine, chocolate and crisps and replaced them with water, fruit and vegetables. After a few weeks I noticed a drastic improvement in my overall mood and mind-set.  On the days I would exercise, my thinking was clearer and sharper and my attitude was more positive and upbeat.  I had discovered the secret to regaining a positive sense of control amongst the turmoil of life and I was determined to do everything I could maintain it.

After a few months of living this way I noticed a massive change in how I perceived the world. Things that once appeared to be major obstacles and barriers now looked more like opportunities.  I was developing an entrepreneurial mind-set that I was planning to put to good use.

Life – the ultimate juggling act

As I continued to grow, momentum was created and my productivity exploded.  I was doing really well at work by introducing new and innovative ideas to move the business forward.  The idea of forming a charity to help other parents was also taking shape with a clearly defined service office and website.  I was running a busy home, caring for my daughter to improve her speech, improving the relationships with those closest to me including my husband and we were now training for our first half marathon.  I was also 15 chapters into a book I am planning to publish in 2018.

At times my schedule felt all consuming – a typical week of training involved attending two 45 minute spin classes, intensive interval training sets 1000 meters x 6 with 2 minutes rest, internal sets at 8.5% incline for 4 minutes x 5, Body Balance twice a week and an 8 mile run every Sundays.  I was doing this alongside managing a full time job, family life and starting a charity.  To fit it all in I woke up at 5am most days and dragged myself out of bed while the moon and stars were still out.  On occasions I would get on the treadmill and start my run, and after 1km I would tire and hit the stop button.  I would go back to my locker and grab my stuff and head for the exit but half way down the stairs, something would always pull me back.  I knew had to do this half marathon whether I trained for it not and this forced me to develop the discipline and mind-set required to finish what I started.  Once I completed my sets I always felt happy about going back.  This period taught me a lot about what was possible.  Eight months prior to this, I struggled to find the energy to get off the sofa to clean the house after a busy day at work. Now I was performing the ultimate juggling act and was doing it without dropping any major balls.          

Avalon was born

The idea to start a not for profit organisation to support parents and families caring for someone with Autism has been born out of frustration. There was nothing in place for parents and families and everything we had achieved up until now had been self-funded and placed a massive strain on the family. This was a great driver to do something about it.  The charity would be called Avalon after my daughter Ava who provided me with the source of strength and inspiration to do something meaningful with my life.  I hadn’t chosen this path but I was beginning to feel this path had chosen me. I was reenergised by a clear sense of purpose and I was sure Avalon would be successful in helping those that needed it most.

After months of hard work the charity website was ready to be launched and we were ready to do our first fundraiser for Avalon. After launching the go fund me page we raised £1000 in two days!! After one week it rose to £2380.

Life begins at the edge of your comfort zone

On the day of the run we arrived early to meet our amazing friends and family who decided to run to support us. They were running the 10k so we had to be there early to see them off.  I felt so blessed and fortunate to be surrounded with such amazing people who would do anything they could to make this dream a reality.

The weather was typical for Glasgow – pouring with rain and strong winds but this could not dampen the spirit of the runners.  We wore Avalon T-shirts printed by our first corporate sponsor Neon Wraps and got a quick group photo together before they set-off.  My husband and I decided to run the half marathon. It was quite fitting that our first challenge together would be an endurance event given the fact the last four years had felt like a marathon.

We stood in the crowd absorbing the carnival atmosphere around us. The music was pounding and it vibrated through our very souls. We were surrounded by burst of vibrant colours worn by the thousands of runners who took to the streets to run for something good.

Ready, set and go

As moved towards the starting line we were ready to go. We had trained for months to prepare for this day and we wanted to finish well to honour those who had sponsored the charity.

As we ran through the course we experienced some amazing moments; kids lining the streets to high five the runners, choirs singing and bagpipers playing in full regalia. We started in the streets or Glasgow passing all major land marks before moving into the Glasgow parks.  We were required to run through Maxwell Park which was a special place for us as we had our wedding reception there seven years earlier. As I was making my way through the park with the wind and rain pounding my face my iPhone randomly selected the song my husband and I danced to during our first dance at our wedding. This was so unexpected and it immediately took me back to that day when life was simpler – before Ava and before Autism. As I reflected on this I was overcome with emotion and tears streamed down my face.

The pressures of the diagnosis had put a massive strain on our marriage and at times I thought it might break us. Instead we were running the streets of Glasgow together turning this life challenge into an opportunity to help others.  For the first time in the last four years I was starting to see the significance of Ava’s arrival into our lives. Ava was a gift and in the four years she had been here she was already making her mark in the world. William and I were forced to raise our standards to become better parents and better people. Ava forced us to become less selfish and more selfless. Our marriage was tested and we found a way to stay together without losing the love that first brought us together. This was an achievement and I felt truly blessed.

As I dried my eyes as my phone rang and it was my sister. I panicked as I knew she was the emergency contact for us during the race.  William and I had got separated earlier and I thought something happened to William. I answered the phone quickly and said is he ok? Is William ok? Oh I don’t know I was just calling to find out how you are? You don’t even sounds out of breath!!! When do you think you will finish its cold out here?  I couldn’t believe it. I am kinda of busy here Susan. I’m 7 miles in and shouldn’t be too long. Keep your phone line clear in case anything happens. That has to be one of the strangest phone calls I have ever taken in my life.

The Finishing Line – The New Starting Line

As I headed back into the city on the last stretch of the run I was surprised at how well I had coped. Prior to starting my training I couldn’t even run a mile and here I was, having just run 13.1 miles.  It felt great.  As I ran across the finished line I saw a friend face waving and shouting in the crowd. Gerry is a very close friend who had agreed to be a trustee for the charity. Gerry had been a great source of strength for me throughout the challenges with Ava and he was here to see me finish. When I crossed the line I hugged him through the silver barrier and we both cried as we knew this was a significant moment. This was not the finishing line for us – it was new starting line.

We would like to thank all the Avalon team and runners for their support. We smashed our £1000 target and raised an amazing £3500 for our first fundraiser.  Well done guys.

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