I never knew Chris. I hope he’s okay I am talking about him even if our paths never directly crossed. But I feel it almost necessary to bring him into this because in an extremely strange way I felt him with me. He almost made it known he had some part of this trip to Russia.
That’s right, I said Russia. This post will be lengthy, and it will also probably make you cry. I hope you shed more joyful tears than sad tears.
It all started at the end of September/ beginning of October. I received a call from one of the counsellors at Callanish. Her name is Danielle. Let me add she’s the first person I talked to there when I was initially diagnosed. Desperately searching for someone to talk to. Someone who could understand what it means to hear the words “you have cancer”. It’s one of the worst phrases you can hear in your life. But Danielle has been there from the beginning helping guide me on a healing path that had nothing to do with my physical illness.
I started attending group therapy for young adults with cancer at the end of last year. One day a month I look forward to sitting in a circle usually crying about how shitty things have been. How my life was a train wreck. How I was losing everything I loved about life. How my face was deformed. How my cancer had spread. How my life was probably being cut short. I find this place to be one of the most settling spaces I’ve ever entered. There is something really special about the space at Callanish. Being there has changed me. For the better might I add.
Through group I have managed to find a little community of people who I so desperately was looking for. Who understood. Who could sit there and laugh when you made a morbid joke that is apparently not funny to everyone.
Through attending this group I found out about the retreats they offer. I so recommend you watch a glimpse of what I experienced at retreat. The film is called “I’m still here”. It was a life changing experience. We also dove even deeper than what you see on the video. The women I attended with, we are all bonded. Bonded like sisters.
Through this retreat I learned a lot about my own journey. And the importance of community. More importantly the gymnastics community I thought I lost. The most heartbreaking part of my story was my loss of sport. It may seem odd to people that’s what I am most sad about. But sport was my life. I wasn’t ready to retire. I had no plans to retire anytime soon. But obviously life took a sudden turn and all of a sudden the choice was no longer mine. Please hold that in your own heart. That life can take those turns that you’re not ready for. So when you find yourself in a moment where you feel happy, hold onto it. But remember that happiness is your choice, not a destination.
Danielle called me and said that she had just talked to a women named Claire. Claire is the president of the Forward Foundation. What the Forward Foundation does is provide experiences of a lifetime to young adults 18-39 with an advanced illness. Danielle from what I understood talked to her a little bit about the cancer community. Claire mentioned they were looking for someone to be gifted the first experience before they would be opening up applications at the end of 2018.
Danielle said I was the first person to pop up in her mind. That she thought of me when Claire described what they did and who they provided it for. I was extremely humbled that she thought of me. The cancer community at Callanish is amazing. There are amazing women and men that Danielle knows. And for her to think of me was so touching. As I drove home on the phone with her I didn’t really know what to think. I had this kind of weird sense of that I didn’t need it. It could be used for someone else.
She emailed me the application and told me to think on it. Which I did. Nothing came to mind. I’m not the Disney girl, or one for an epic Caribbean vacation. It would drive me fucking crazy to watch my family or friends tan their skin. The irony of that situation is outrageous. The thing with the application is that it is so open. And that they want you to base your experience around connection and community.
So as I kept pondering and thinking, I thought of gymnastics. What a fucking blow it was to have Worlds taken from me last year. A year I could really confidently say I was in the group of girls who could potentially medal. Nothing is guaranteed but that was my goal. And then fucking cancer happened.
So it basically hit me as I was in my bed and I thought “oh my god I want to go to Worlds”. It seemed like an insane idea. The logistics of a trip to St. Petersburg, Russia would be complicated. But I also had this weird sense of I think this is what I am supposed to do. I felt this need to be there. It was a gut feeling. And the Forward Foundation are exactly the people who could make it happen for me.
So I wrote the application that night and emailed it off to Claire. OH and wrote Pam’s name down as the person to join me without even asking her. Pretty bold eh?
The thing is if I were to do this, Pam was the only one who I was willing to do it with. She’s seen it all and been there through it all. Christ, she was my babysitter once when I was 12. She was the first person to congratulate me when I came second at World Games. She was also one of the first people I called when I was diagnosed. She’s been there with me through it ALL. And my gut said Pam, and I sent it off without even asking her.
The next morning I called her and said something along the lines of “I don’t know if you’ll be up for this, but”, and then told her what I wanted to do. She said “Tamara, of course I’ll come to Russia with you”. Which I also knew she would say. So Pam it was, and my Russian “vacation” was accepted and we now had basically 3 weeks to get a Visa and everything booked. And we did. And we were off to Russia.
I was fucking excited. I had this sick feeling in my stomach that I really hoped everyone wouldn’t judge me for going. I wanted it to be extremely clear I wasn’t there to distract the team that I knew I wasn’t on. I just simply wanted to watch and be around my community in that setting one last time.
After I arrived in Edmonton there would be a layover where Pam and I would unite before starting our journey to Russia. She sat me down and told me that she was gonna film a lot of stuff going on during the week. Might I add Pam is an amazing photographer? Like amazing. I always thought she should go into photography. She sat me down and asked me how I was feeling and I’m not really sure what I replied. Then she says “so I want you to know they have asked you to hold the flag for Canada at the opening ceremonies”. I was stunned and basically burst into tears. All I could think of was why? Like why do they want me to hold it? It was an honour I had had before, but never with a reaction like this. I was so fucking honoured they wanted me to do that. That I got that privilege of representing Canada like that. It was something I was so happy about. Happy and humbled by.
As we walked to the gate there was an announcement that our plane had mechanical errors and we would be delayed. I didn’t stress at first because I knew we had a couple of hours in Amsterdam before our flight to St. Petersburg. So we decided to sit down at the bar before the flight and ran into one of the girls who would be competing’s mom. Her name was Angela. God bless Angela, she really changed and made our trip so much more than it was supposed to be. She also got to experience the events with us that were about to unfold.
We ended up being delayed 3 hours. We made up an hour in the air and therefore were late arriving to Amsterdam by two hours. Now Angela asked on the flight about our connecting plane. They said to go to the gate. So once we were off, we ran. And we made it! Unfortunately when they scanned our ticket they advised us that they had already rebooked us as they thought we wouldn’t make it. So we ended up being stuck in Amsterdam that night and weren’t able to leave for Russia till the next morning. What a disaster, but being stuck in Amsterdam is definitely not the worst thing. Did I mention it was my 22nd birthday that day too?
The next day we departed for Stockholm. Once in Stockholm we had another delay (shorter this time) before leaving for St. Petersburg. You think this is a long journey for just anyone, imagine me who was already concerned about travelling with cancer to be stuck in this situation. Fucking sucked.
But we arrived. We got to the hotel, where team Canada and a couple other teams were staying as well. And we went to our room to try to decompress. Pam informed me that we would be having a team dinner that night with team Canada. I thought that was so kind of them to include us. I know Pam and The Forward Foundation had been in touch with everyone about us coming and it had seemed they were happy we were there. This was really helpful for me because I stressed how my presence would affect the team.
As we sat in the room before going down I was starting to feel how big the magnitude of me being there was. As much as I had been so excited and it was this thing we planned to do, it was another thing to be sitting there being in Russia. And I just started sobbing. It was probably a mixture of many emotions as well as being extremely over tired. But this emotion was sadness. I was so fucking sad that I was about to walk downstairs under the circumstances I am in. That the last time I walked down for dinner with a Worlds team, I was competing. With leg muscles and with no care in the world other than my competition. And I was about to walk down and see the same team a year after being diagnosed with cancer. Cancer which has spread throughout my body and had been a huge reason I look as skinny as I do now. I think I’m afraid I’m going to look sick. I was afraid that this image of me as an athlete would now be clouded by the fact I was a cancer patient. It was really heartbreaking for me. And I was really petrified to go down there.
So Pam and I sat and cried together. And Pam had a nervous vibe to her as well. That was the first time I remembered that this was going to be really hard for her too. To be with the same team she travelled on for years. Pam was also an accomplished double mini trampolinist. But it would also be hard to watch me go through this experience.
So we went down together and walked into the dinner hall. Everyone was standing with shirts that said “we jump for Tamara” with the forward foundation logo on the front of it. The entire Canadian Worlds team was wearing this shirt and burst into a happy birthday song. And I just cried. Again. It’s a common theme among these kinds of gestures. How else do you react? But I was so overwhelmed. Rosie had asked me in September if the t-shirt “I jump for Tamara” was okay. I said absolutely, but had assumed they would have one made and people would sign it. I never imagined that the whole team would wear it. Never imagined that they would have done that for me. I just wanted to be there. That was above and beyond. It’s hard to put into words what that moment was like. But it was joyful and there was so much strength in that room of just support and love. It was incredible.
That was the first time I felt Chris was there. When I saw the forward logo he came right into my head. I had this extremely strange ah ha moment from him. I never met Chris, but I imagine he would have laughed hugged me and been like “Tamara, this is your community and of course they love you”. I felt this moment and soaked it in like a sponge. It was one of the most amazing things that has ever been done for me.
It was overwhelming hugging people and trying to say hello. I didn’t get to nearly everyone. It was a big moment. And it was really special.
The next day we had opening ceremonies. Which I was one of the flag bearers for along with another Canadian athlete. I really took in that moment as well. To be out on the floor again. Everything rushed back to me. The feeling of competition, and the feeling of invincibility. You really do feel invincible while being out there. It’s a rush unlike anything else. You could say I was addicted to that rush of competition. But it was special to stand there for Canada. I held the flag for my first worlds and now at my last. It all came full circle.
That day was the start of worlds. I wondered how I would feel actually being there. How I would feel knowing I couldn’t compete. How I would feel watching my teammates. If I would feel jealous, or unhappy or like I wasn’t meant to be there. I had a lot of fears surrounding all the uncertainty that the week presented. Because I was there in a different role. As someone who had cancer, and no longer an athlete. It’s unreal that’s what the reality is. Because I did not feel like a cancer patient once this week. Not one time.
This day I got to watch two of my favourite people compete at World Championships. One being Cat who despite so many odds competed at her first Worlds. Cat took a 5 year break from power tumbling. And came back and made the team to compete in St. Petersburg. It was such a cool moment that I got to watch this happen for her. She had worked so hard and was so deserving of being there.
And then I got to see Ryan compete who is basically my BFF within the sport. He took a break from double mini to basically kill it all year making Worlds for the second time. I felt like a proud sister watching, and I know the competition didn’t go as he planned, but despite the results, I was so honoured to watch.
As the week went on, the smiles and hugs and love I received not only from my Canadian teammates but also my international friends was indescribable. Every single person I talked to couldn’t express enough how happy they were to see me. It made me feel so good. I was so incredibly happy to be there and I was really taken aback that people felt the same by me being there.
I believed I would have many awkward conversations, that people would treat me different, or look at me different. And I was incredibly surprised that was not the case. I built it up so hard in my head that nobody would see me for me anymore. That the cancer would be in the way. And it just wasn’t the case. Everyone treated me so normal. I felt normal. And I hadn’t felt that normalcy since my diagnosis. It had been a long time.
On day two of competition was the women’s double mini competition. That was my event. And I was most nervous to watch this event because I was scared I would feel envy or sadness or jealousy that I wasn’t out there. That it should have been me competing trying to make the final. That I should have had a place on that team.
Another surprise was I felt none of that. I watched in total awe of the Canadian women. A team I hoped I would be the veteran of one day. And that I would help lead the next generation into their new role of seniors. A role I never felt like I got to be in. But as I watched each one of them with so much pride that they were the new generation of double mini trampolinists, I felt no sadness. Only joy in the achievements they accomplished. Two made finals, both being their first worlds. An accomplishment that hasn’t been done since 2013. I couldn’t wait to hug each one of them and tell them how happy I was for them. How proud I was. I can’t express what an honour it was to watch not only them but every single person out on the floor. It was an absolute privilege.
That night was the new event of “Team All- Round Finals”. I had no idea what to think. I took over Gymnastics Canada’s Instagram, and got to kind of broadcast the event in my own way. What a fun night it was cheering for Canada. Such a unique event and it was amazing to watch everyone come together. Canada won bronze. Again, I was just so honoured to have watched it. Such a privilege.
The rest of the week consisted of trying to find vegan food. Which wasn’t awfully hard, but Pam helped me a lot. She always made sure I had taken my meds, which I had, made sure I had drank enough and made sure my energy was up. She took very good care of me.
By day three of the competition I was reminded that I had cancer. I was so tired. The initial adrenaline and excitement now wore off. My extreme fatigue is also due to the fact I am currently on treatment. A fact people forget a lot, and I forget. It totally fucks with my system. I am a lot more tired than everyone else. A fact that is normal for me now. And going to the gym would have been too much for my system to handle. So instead Pam, Angela and I went on a tour of St. Petersburg. It was amazing. The city is so much better than I remember. Not sure if ten years did the trick or what, but it was phenomenal. But I stayed back from the venue and made sure to get my sleep. It was needed.
Day 4 of the competition (the last day) would be bitter-sweet for me. I knew the meet was coming to a close. The event would be wrapped up that night with an athletes banquet which we were given tickets for. Which was amazing because I was not expecting to go, but really hoping to go. So I felt very lucky that we were able to participate. But the last day of finals was so damn exciting. I was able to make the Instagram story for Gymnastics Canada again. I watched two Canadian women rock the double mini finals. I watched my teammate Sam hit an amazing semi finals routine which landed her just outside of finals. A routine I hope she is as proud of as I am. I’ve watched Sam almost believe she isn’t as good as the other girls, and the truth is she’s playing the game with the best in the world. And she is one of the best in the world.
I watched my British friend Luke achieve his dream of making a world final. One of the best world finals I have ever witnessed. And he made that final so exceptional to watch. He has really inspired me through his own perseverance. After not making the Olympic team in 2016 I can’t even imagine how devastated he was. But he came back stronger and better and is one of the best men’s trampolinists in the world. Something very few people can say. It was my privilege to watch that come true for him.
And finally I watched Rosie win her second individual world title. Named the best female trampolinist… again. There is something about watching her that is so absolutely incredible. Her athletic talent and pursuit is unlike anything you’ve ever witnessed. And it’s even more spectacular watching in person. After it was official she won we watched her receive her gold medal and Pam and I went down to the mixed zone to meet her for pictures and for me to Instagram a story for Gymnastics Canada. For someone who has won many titles you can tell it doesn’t get old for her. She was so absolutely excited to have won, and couldn’t believe it! The thing about Rosie is as great as an athlete as she is, she is probably an even better person. So much of the surprises that were done for me during the week she played a huge hand in. When I asked her how it felt she said it hadn’t hit her yet and that she was “pretty stoked”. The video I took cut out before she finished but she said “but I’m more stoked you’re here”. I’ve always loved her. Admired her. It’s been an inspiration to watch her athletic career up close and personal. But for someone who just won a gold medal to say that to me was really special. She’s one of the most selfless and humble people I’ve ever met. And in my opinion the best trampolinist that has ever graced the sport. And I feel really blessed I can call her a friend.
That leads me to the next time Chris was there. We got back to the hotel that night after an exciting final. Pam and I started packing and getting ready. Pam said they had a team meeting at 8:30 that we had to go to. So I didn’t finish my makeup and we headed down with Pam’s camera. I wasn’t really sure why we had to go, but I maybe figured that they would thank me for coming and spending the week. So we got off the elevator on the third floor and the whole team was dressed up ready for a night of partying. They said that they had a special presentation and Rosie came to the front. And then she called me up. I was really confused as to what was going on now because I had been the flag bearer, and they had surprised me with the shirts. So I was really confused what was about to happen.
As Rosie talked and I listened she explained that not just her but everyone on the team hoped that after the week that I knew that I was just as much apart of the team as they were. Saying the trampoline community was always with me. I just kept thinking why was she holding a medal box in her hand and flowers. I was thinking she was going to bring them down to the banquet but thought that also seemed strange. She kept speaking and I kept listening and finally she said that they had decided to award me with a medal from the team event.
That I was apart of that team and they wanted me to know that. So here Rosie hands me a bronze medal from the first ever All-Round Team Final and the flowers that were won. I cried a couple of tears and kind of just thanked everyone for the amazing week. That they had gone above and beyond any expectations I had. This was the most insane surprise of the trip. As the meeting ended and everyone headed down, Pam and I had to finish getting ready. Thank god I didn’t finish my makeup yet because as soon as the elevator doors closed, I started bawling.
I had to stop in the hallway to contain myself. I couldn’t stop. I could not believe that the team would even think to do that for me. As we entered our room Pam explained a little more.
She said that it was a collective team decision and that everyone who had competed in the All-Round Team event had to agree they would do that. But it was Rosie that sacrificed the medal she earned to give to me. Pam said they felt that if I was competing this year that I would have been one of the 9 in that team event. It was the most overwhelming feeling. But in that moment Chris came to mind. Like he was there in that moment.
What I hadn’t realized during this week was quite simple. I went into the week with my own personal agenda. For closure. For a chance to say goodbye. For hopefully laughter and a great time with people I don’t get to see unless we are at trampoline competitions. What I didn’t realize until that night was that my presence there affected this team about as much as they affected me. What it meant to the team having me be there cheering them on. I never had considered that it was going to affect them in such a positive way. That me being there made them think that I was deserving of a medal that they earned, not me. Yet they felt I deserved it as much as they did. It was absolutely mind-blowing to have received that medal. The medal is beautiful but the gesture and thought behind it means everything to me. In that moment I realized this idea of community I had thought I lost was not lost at all. If anything I was just as much apart of the community as I had ever been before, and probably even more so. It was this amazing point of being proved wrong. And I think that is what this trip was all about. That moment made me understand why it was me. Why I had this opportunity to come to Worlds. Why I felt so compelled to have felt the need to be there. Because I was completely wrong. I had not lost my community at all. It was only the opposite. And I also realized I didn’t need to say goodbye. That I didn’t need closure, but a reminder that everyone is still with me. Still cheering for me. And in some strange way I think Chris had a lot to do with it. I can’t explain it, but I felt it.
That night I walked into the banquet with seriously everyone telling me how stunning and hot I looked. It was one of the biggest confident boosts I have ever received. I felt so good, I looked so good and I enjoyed every moment of the night. Getting pictures with everyone, having lots of tears shed (not just from me), and dancing. Just dancing brings so much life into you. I went over to talk to Curt who had been my coach for the last 4 years, and he just said that in my own way, this was what I was meant to do. That this experience was so me. And I resonated with how he explained that to me.
I was given an experience of my choosing. I could have picked anything. Literally anything. But in my own way I picked what was most meaningful for me. And it was to be at Worlds one last time. And it was one of the most rich experiences I have ever had. It was more meaningful than any past competitions I have ever attended. It was something I truly did for myself and needed for me. What I learned in the process is the impact it had on everyone around me. That me just being me is enough to affect others in such a way I never imagined possible. Every single person who made this experience what it was I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart. It was so truly beautiful and amazing. It wasn’t as hard as I had thought, and it was also not about letting me mourn my loss for gymnastics either. It showed me that I have every fucking person in my corner. That I have every fucking person fighting with me, thinking of me, and when it came down to it standing up for me. The fact of the matter is that community is never lost. It may take a different form but it is never lost. And it was a valuable lesson I learned. I was dead ass wrong that I lost my community. They are here and they jumped for me.
I want to sincerely thank the Forward Foundation for making this happen. I felt Chris with me. And for those who read this whole post, this was Chris’s vision. This was his creation of the Forward Foundation. He wanted young adults with advanced ilness to have a meaningful experience. And he worked his way into my life somehow. He needed to teach and show me that my community was not lost. And I don’t know how he did it, but he did. To Claire, Chrissy and the whole board who I was lucky enough to have met at the first ever Cayford Gala, thank you. Chris built something special, and you guys are here to follow it through. And you will change lives by providing experiences like you did for me. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
I feel like the most loved and supported person on the planet, and it’s a pretty spectacular feeling.
Until next time,