Liz Chamberlain will be running the New York City Marathon in two weeks, but the journey to the start line was anything but easy. Despite battling an invisible illness after a head injury, she found strength in art and running, and is now inspiring others along the way to the finish line.
Chamberlain is a McMaster alumna, and is working as an x-ray and mammography technologist at Credit Valley Hospital in Mississauga. The mother of two is also a talented painter and avid marathon runner, two things she didn’t expect to be while studying at McMaster.
In March of 2013, Chamberlain suffered an head injury during a night shift that left her severely overwhelmed by multiple stimuli, including bright lights, background sounds and moving objects. The injury also impaired her ability to read easily and organize and prioritize her thoughts.
By the end of the summer, Chamberlain found herself severely depressed and frustrated from the lack of recovery. She was diagnosed with post-concussion syndrome and she completed a ten-week Intensive Outpatient Program where she learned the importance of self-care.
"Every move isn't going to be pretty and enjoyable, but in the end, you have to be able to work through it and trust the journey."
“That program gave me permission to take care of myself, because up until that point in time, I was always a caregiver, I give to other people, I didn’t take time for myself, I didn’t have a hobby,” explained Chamberlain.
Through the program, Chamberlain was encouraged to set goals and take the time to take care of herself. She started listening to audiobooks and do online workshops like Kelly Rae Roberts’ Hello Soul, Hello Mixed Media Mantras.
Chamberlain was also inspired by Brené Brown’s book, The Gifts of Imperfection, to start art journaling, which she found therapeutic.
“That’s when I started out with Cocktails n’ Canvas, which is a local social paint night. I went to one of those with my friend. I was really overwhelmed by the crowds and had some trouble but once I got into it, I found out that I loved to paint… I didn’t expect to have something at the end of the night that I thought I liked,” explained Chamberlain.
It was the first time she had painted since elementary school, but the very next day Chamberlain bought paints and canvases and started making art. She learned self-care and letting go of perfectionism through painting. Now, she’s part of the Cocktails n’ Canvas team and has lead her own workshops.
“There are no mistakes, there are only happy accidents. One move leads to the next move, and even if you don’t like that move, it will lead you to something you will enjoy in the end,” explained Chamberlain.
“You have to work through the mess, work through the ugly stage, and it was one of those lightbulb moments, where I’m like ‘that’s exactly like life’. Every move isn’t going to be pretty and enjoyable, but in the end, you have to be able to work through it and trust the journey.”
Chamberlain’s mood had been improving, but she still was struggling with energy. That’s when she started attending classes at the Stoney Creek Running Room. She not only found an accepting and supportive community, but her fellow runners became like family she can rely on.
“I participated in Relay Race Around the Bay this past spring, I ran 15 km and passed off to another lady, and took a bus back to the finish line to cheer people on. This feeling of family and the excitement that I had and felt from everybody else when the ladies came in, it was amazing. I felt like I belonged,” she said.
Running introduced Chamberlain to new friends and opportunities to expand her art. Chamberlain attended a talk by Darcy Patrick, author of Why I Run, while she was at another low spot in her life. She was encouraged by his book to start using mantras to motivate her while running.
“When things start to get hard then I tell myself that I am strong, I am confident, I am fearless, I am courageous and I am powerful. All of these affirmations help me to get through the hard times in the run,” said Chamberlain.
Patrick was impressed by Chamberlain’s resilience and one day asked her to paint him a piece for the anniversary of his book. He was so impressed by her talent that he decided to make the painting the cover of his upcoming book.
It was a challenge for Chamberlain to start running, she was never an athlete and had struggled with her weight, but with rigorous training and determination, she went from alternating between a running and walking routine, to running 5k, 10k and three half-marathons.
She also wants others battling invisible illness and disabilities to know that they aren't alone. she wants to encourage others to talk about their struggles and relate to one another.
Chamberlain is now training for the New York City Marathon and had been selected as a team member for 261 Fearless, a non-profit that empowers and unites women through running. The historic 42.1 km marathon goes through all five boroughs of the city, with supporters cheering on runners at every corner.
Chamberlain will be running the race with 14 other women, including Kathrine Switzer, the woman behind 261 Fearless and the first woman to run the Boston Marathon in 1967.
“Being somebody who wasn’t an athlete all their life, and being overweight, I feel like I’m really showing people that you don’t have to be in perfect form to do amazing things. Just go out and try it and if you do the training properly, you can do it just the way you are,” said Chamberlain.
Chamberlain’s message is loud and clear; don’t be afraid to follow your heart, just go out there and do it, and trust that journey will lead you to your intended or even better outcome.
Just like how so many people have inspired her, Chamberlain hopes that by sharing her story she will be able to connect with people and encourage others to follow their dreams and inspirations.
She also wants others battling invisible illnesses and disabilities to know that they aren’t alone. She wants to encourage others to talk about their struggles and relate to one another.
“The power of that ‘me too’ is phenomenal. One of the things that Brené Brown says is that shame can’t survive being shared, so if you talk about your shame or what’s making you feel bad, then it actually lessens the impact of it. I think it’s really important,” said Chamberlain.
Chamberlain’s journey doesn’t end at the finish line. She will continue to push her limits, overcome her struggles and be ready for the next challenge, while sharing her story every step of the way through her art and writing on her blog; Embrace Your Inspiration.