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Marathon runner beats the odds to survive car crash and run again

In the blink of an eye Leaha MacDonald’s running days were over. Instead of training for her next marathon she was lying in a hospital bed fighting for her life.

On September 16, 20ll, MacDonald was walking her bike across the street and was struck by an SUV. What came next for MacDonald was an incredible journey to not only beat the odds in surviving the collision, which threw her 50 feet, but to walk and, amazingly, run again.

On August 25 the Calgary resident will be lacing up her shoes with two friends to run the Edmonton marathon – just two years after that fateful day.  MacDonald started running again four months ago and is looking forward to participating in the marathon on Sunday. Her goal is to run it in seven hours – to complete the distance. Her best time is 4:11.

In a recent phone interview from her family home in Ontario, MacDonald and her mother, Mariann, shared with me details of her miraculous recovery and her passion for running. “I was on my way home after a work event – a team building session, and it was 4:30 pm. I was walking my bike across the street. If I didn’t wear a helmet I would have been dead. The helmet saved me,” MacDonald, with a positive, confident delivery, says. “Also, the doctors said I was in good shape, which helped.”

MacDonald was in a coma for two months. She sustained a severe brain injury and hip fractures. After three weeks in a coma doctors informed her family there was little hope of recovery and were recommending palliative care. MacDonald says: “They told my family there was only a two per cent chance of recovery and they thought I would live in a (care) home the rest of my life.”

Her mother adds, “She still has a long, long way to go yet, she is struggling with memory and problems with balance. She was paralyzed in the right leg and right arm and only started running recently. She is seeing a speech therapist and a physiotherapist. The doctors are surprised of her recovery.”

MacDonald explains, “I had to learn to breathe, eat, swallow, talk and sit again.” She spent three months in hospital in Calgary and then went home to Toronto to spend six weeks in rehab for brain injuries, which followed another six weeks at the brain injury rehab clinic. She then began to learn to walk.

She says, “Oh my God, as soon as I walked I told my physiotherapist I wanted to run.”

With six marathons and three half irons under her belt, this marathoner was determined to run again. She says, “I am a hugely stubborn person and almost two years after the accident, here I am running in my first official full marathon.”

In yesterday’s Edmonton Marathon MacDonald completed the distance in eight hours. She says via e-mail, “I thought I’d let you know that I finished today! I was super slow, 8 hours and I am very tired. But I did it!!”

Leaha MacDonald learned again to breathe, swallow, walk and will now run.  She is a symbol of perseverance and in my opinion is a true Canadian hero.

 

Women of the Week: Sarah Jean Aguinaldo

Sarah Jean Aguinaldo, also known as Serena Jean, is the founder of Lifeward Choices Empowerment Centre. With over 15 years of experience, she is skilled at helping people uncover their life focus areas and guiding them to empowerment.

Her interest in this field (as she defines it, a “humanitarian interest”) started very early in her life, and she retained it throughout her schooling.In fact, as a teenager, she received the University of Women Award for her volunteer work.

“I was very passionate about helping others grow and experience quality living,” she says.

When it came time to pursue higher education, her path was easy to choose.

“I wanted to help people experience improved living/great quality living, help people take care of planet…wanted to be a part of finding solutions to making this happen,” she says. So, through a double major in Environment and Resource Management and Urban, Economic and Social Geography, Aguinaldo was able to explore the many important global issues humanity is currently facing.

After completing her BA, Aguinaldo went after a B.Ed, before starting work as a teacher. It was here, she says, that she fully realized her desire to work in the life coaching field.

“There is nothing more important in life than personal betterment and helping others grow – the two go hand-in-hand and such care is needed to help our planet become healthier and more wonderful. These things are all interconnected.”

Thus, in March of 2013 she launched the website for the Lifeward Choices Empowerment Centre. The Centre, she says, “sees life coaching as a two-way and collaborative process; learning and development occurs for both parties involved.” Through each interaction, both the coaches and the clients are given the opportunity “to learn from one another/from other’s experiences and constantly adjust our self-views and worldviews.”

As well as offering access to skilled life coaches, the Centre reaches out to clients in unique ways through its conventions and mentorship programs.

The conferences, Aguinaldo says, “build rapport and genuine community,” which in turn creates “long-term clients who are satisfied clients, and they further recommend the business.”

On the other end of the spectrum, the mentorship program (which Aguinaldo calls “extremely fun”) sees coaches reach out to adolescent girls through social outings designed to increase their self worth.

“It is wonderful to witness their transformation into strong aspiring ladies who love themselves and their lives,” she says.

Furthering her reach, Aguinaldo is currently working with YourDailyMentor.com “to provide online mentoring and coaching to reach the deaf community through subtitles and sign language” and is planning to launch a line of coaching videos, translated into multiple languages, in October of this year.

As a life coach, Aguinaldo has found her niche. Not surprisingly, when asked what her most important piece of advice is, Aguinaldo quickly responds,  “Ensure you are genuinely going after your personal passion, what naturally calls to you, and not simply what societal norms is directing you to follow; thus, success is already yours from the outset.”

Wise words indeed.

Adventures in blogging – Does this make sense?

With the blog site in place, the fun part of blogging had begun. What a wondrous opportunity for a writer to compose, present and collect feedback, in real time. Not yet convinced blogging was the right method of exploring my writing voice, I dove in anyway. Producing content was tougher than anticipated. Finessing the words was pure joy. When rules began interrupting the creative flow, the experience became something else entirely.

I expected the odd creative block and therefore mitigated the risk by collecting an abundance of material for one to two posts weekly. My challenge was sticking to the rules for ‘successful bloggers’ gathered through internet research and referencing social media stars. After navigating the plethora of advice, I narrowed it down to 10 key points.

10 Content Rules for Successful Bloggers

1. Specialize in one topic per blog. A clear vision of content attracts a more targeted and loyal audience.

2. Catchy titles. Have yours be the enthralling headline that drives someone to click and read.

3. Consistent post frequency. Some amount of consistency is best to keep new followers, whether posts are daily, weekly or biweekly.

4. Avoid venting. Use your power for good. Very few people can garner a faithful following of their complaints.

5. Subtitles, bullets and pictures. Organization and succinct thought presentation make for easy reading, especially for those who scan first before reading.

6. Promote comments and feedback. Creating a conversation with your followers generates three benefits: valuable feedback on content, follower retention, and new followers wanting to weigh in.

7. Make it easy to share. Provide easy ability to ‘share’ and ‘promote’ within social media sites.

8. Subscribe capability. Keep RSS feeds and email notifications ‘opt in’ prominent on the page.

9. Under 1000 words. The ‘sweet spot’ for most blog readers is between 600 – 1000 words.

10. Credibility. Display relevant credentials, awards and accreditations so readers have confidence in your content.

 

Broken Rules:

The internet offers an overwhelming amount of information about social media. I have handled the abundance of advice the same way I manage parenting tips. I read through material that interested me, and decided what made sense before drawing my own conclusions.

Without creating a number of separate blogs, I could not follow rule number one and stick with one topic. Since my blog goal was to find my writing voice, I needed the ability to explore a number of avenues that were incompatible and would attract different audiences. While the blog name “JustMomSensations” suggests impressions from a Mom, it could not be a well-targeted Mom-blog alone. It also needed to include short stories, snippets of manuscripts in development, business ideas, and favourite works of other writers. I broke blog rule number one and I moved on with a chaotic collection of topics.

Rules Followed:

With the exception of rule number one, the rules were easier to follow. My posts have not been as consistent as planned but it is balancing out over time. Since my first entry in September of 2012, I have averaged 1.5 posts weekly. I’ve managed to save my venting for journals and my husband, along with the occasional leak of steam on my personal Facebook page. The remaining rules guided me to structure the site and enable gadgets, all with the purpose of maximizing promotional opportunities to gain followers.

Results:

The inconsistency of post numbers reflects my chaotic approach to topics. The most popular post is a short story called “Picture in a Wallet” – a cautionary tale about unsuccessful child abduction. Short stories top the leader board in posts and shares, providing the feedback I was looking for.

I had fewer than 100 viewers when the blog first launched. I shared posts on my personal Facebook, and emailed family and friends. To increase my audience I needed to engage my existing marketing skills, and learn new ones with social media. Social media became my late night companion for weeks. Within a month my viewers topped 500, then 800, with consistent growth from there.

At first glance, social media appears to be free. One can use most tools without spending a dollar. The real and significant cost is human resource time to create an authentic presence in each of the tools. Each site had its own nuances, tricks and etiquette rules.

My education in going social continued as I learned how to use tools to push and pull viewers to my blog. ‘Build it and they will come’ is nice dream. Commitment and persistence is the reality of gaining blog viewers.

 

Next column: The Push and Pull of Blog Promotion

Embrace your destiny

If you’re feeling unmotivated, stuck or just unhappy about where you are in life, maybe a life coach is what you need. Embrace Your Destiny, founded by certified life coach Sandra Dawes, is a service that works to empower people to live the life they have always wanted.

Following a practice that is similar to the popular book The Secret, Dawes works to shift your mindset in order to gain a fulfilling life. She speaks about visions manifesting into reality and the benefits of simply posting positive affirmations around your home to inspire you and your mind. Starting with a helpful (complimentary) discover session, you can learn to “ uncover your greatness and live the life you’ve always imagined.”

It is certainly a fascinating concept; with 9-5 work days it may be difficult to find time to pursue your true passion(s) in life. Speaking as a student, it gets overwhelming to juggle everything life has to offer. Perhaps you are nervous to declare how badly you want “it”, whatever it may be in your life: a promising relationship, a new career or a new start in life. Through one-on-one coaching sessions, group sessions and workshops, Dawes can help. If you’re not ready to do it alone, or just want an extra supporter, Embrace Your Destiny may be the perfect place to start.

Besides, who wouldn’t want to have their own personal cheerleader?

Girl Crush: Mindy Kaling

I’ll admit it: I was late getting into The Office. I had seen an episode here and there, and knew I had a giant crush on John Krasinski, but until two weeks ago never sat down and watched the series as a whole.

I’m here to tell you that I watched eight seasons in two weeks and I’m not sure if I’m happy with that statistic yet or not. What I am happy about is how The Office introduced me to my new favourite lady: Mindy Kaling.

On The Office, Kaling plays Kelly Kapoor, the lovable office chatterbox, but she also holds the title of producer, writer and she made her directorial debut in season 6 with the episode “Body Language.” Now Kaling is the creator of the show The Mindy Project, which she also stars in, writes for and produces. The Mindy Project is a fun show that takes place in an Ob/Gyn clinic, and is the perfect show to fix your post-Office withdrawal. (This is coming from someone who is almost done with The Office and quickly needs to find her next television obsession.)

As if Mindy Kaling doesn’t already seem like the busiest woman in show business, she wrote a book called Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) which I finished in just over a day and then promptly lent out to all my friends. Kaling covers a wide variety of topics including chest hair, one night stands, punching your best friend in the nose, and her own funeral wish list.

Kaling’s book left me in hysterics; it felt like I was reading the diary of my best friend. Her cheek-in-tongue humour perfectly captures the tone you would use while out for lunch with your girlfriends, and her brutally honest tales of Hollywood fame are refreshing.

The reason why I love Kaling is because she has worked hard her entire life to get to where she needs to be. When she couldn’t find roles that suited her, she wrote her own. She produced her own work until someone noticed her, and then she became the only female on the writing staff at The Office. She works 16+ hours a day. She is not afraid to be completely herself and show herself at her most unfiltered and unflattering.

Mindy Kaling is warm, personable, talented and very, very funny.

And once I finish making her a friendship bracelet, she will officially be my best friend.

Follow Andrea on Twitter @andreeahluscu.

Follow Women’s Post on Twitter at @WomensPost.

Real life real estate

I’m a sucker for real estate reality television. Property Virgins, House Hunters, and 2 a.m. reruns of the Property Shop – I live for these shows, and always love watching couples and families go through the highest of highs, the lowest of lows, all to finally find the property of their dreams, and right on budget too.

As a real estate agent though, sometimes I have to giggle at how easy it seems. House showings to key pickup, all wrapped up in a 22 minute time slot. Of course, with the time limitations, there isn’t enough time to get into the intricacies of a normal, average real estate transaction, but I imagine that most viewers who haven’t actually been through the process might romanticize the experience with the information provided on these shows.

In the real world, the process can take months. Buyers have to talk to financial professionals to apply and qualify for financing or a mortgage, and then find the right agent with knowledge of their circumstances, their needs, and the area that they’re looking to purchase in. Then there are the house showings. On television, they show three houses and decide between the given options. I’ve had clients go on as many as 15 showings before deciding on a property, and rightly so. This is not a pair of shoes, this is a home, for families with children, dogs named Rover and cats named Meow. While timing can be of the essence when it comes to getting your home once you’ve decided on a property, finding the right home for you is a process that in my opinion shouldn’t be rushed or double-guessed.

Even after getting an approved offer, we’re often not ready to pick up the keys just yet. Accepted offers are usually “conditional”, meaning we now have to deal with home inspectors, appraisals, and final steps for financing. Your dream home might end up being a nightmare property if an inspector turns up foundation issues or termites, so there’s usually a period of time when a buyer can walk away from a property.

But I’ve seen firsthand how these shows have affected the real estate market in a very real way. Buyers and sellers are more educated now, and real estate professionals have been forced to step up their game. Sellers understand the value of “curb appeal” and not having animals or dirty laundry in the home during showings. Buyers are learning to see past superficial things like bad paint colours and minor improvements to see how a home can be made to fit them. Knowledge is power, and in the real estate game it can be the difference between a make or break deal.

All in all, these shows, by necessity due to timing and probably in large part entertainment, are condensed versions of what to expect when you’re purchasing a property. I take whatever lessons I can from real estate powerhouses like Tatiana Londono, but in the end, I really just take it for what it is: entertainment. Good, clean, funny, exciting, licorice and white cheddar popcorn on a Thursday night entertainment, and I love every second.

Parental seal of approval

Last Friday I finally made the parental introduction. Mr. Unexpected and I joined my mum and her husband for dinner on King West.

As we walked from my condo to the restaurant I could feel my heart pounding; I’ve never wanted my mum to like someone so much in my life and I honestly didn’t know how it would go. But when we arrived at the restaurant all of my nerves and fear melted away as Boyfriend fell into an easy rhythm and immediately got along with both my mum and her husband.

At one point Boyfriend looked at me and just said, “Get over it,” in reference to something silly. It made my mum howl because according to her if my brother ever told me to just, “Get over it” I would probably deck him. This is mostly true except that my little brother is about 9 inches taller than me and a rugby player and I’m about 100% sure I’d lose that fight.

A lot of our dinner conversation revolved around a new job that I’ve recently accepted and the support coming from both my mum, her husband and Boyfriend made me feel like I’ve finally got the family I’ve always wanted. Because my mum only remarried last year we don’t refer to her husband as our stepdad, but he’s more loving and supportive that my birth father ever was and I think that stems from his deep love for my mother. Their relationship is the kind I want for myself. I never once looked at my parents and thought “I want that,” because things were never that good, but looking at my mum and how happy she is now I finally understand what people with happy parents were saying – I want what they have.

But the best part of the whole dinner was the email that came from my mum a few days later letting me know how happy she was, how proud of me she was and how nice it was to see me with someone who is good for me and good to me. Boyfriend and I complement each other but because I’m in it sometimes I forget that, so it’s nice to hear from someone on the outside that we work well together.

I was nervous for nothing, I was afraid for nothing; I was a complete spaz for nothing because in the end introducing someone I love to my mum felt good and right. I wanted her to love him and she does – because according to her he’s lovely, kind and charming none of that was relayed to him though; I don’t want him to get a big head.

Now that he has every possible approval necessary, my best friend, my mum and boy bestie I think it’s time that I start calling him Boyfriend here officially instead of Mr. Unexpected. He was unexpected in October, he was a complete surprise, but now he’s earned the Boyfriend title. And while he still surprises me daily mostly I just realize exactly how lucky I am to have found someone who isn’t perfect but is perfect for me.

People with the perfect life

I’m waiting for the light to change. The man standing next to me – a David Beckham type, handsome with carefully contrived stubble – is close enough that the faint lemon tang of his aftershave reaches me through the warmth of the day. My stomach twists at the unexpected recognition. A small boy of about one year has his peachy head nestled in his father’s neck and his bottom is being supported in the hammock of an impressive bicep. Beside him, pushing the now vacant stroller, is a young woman with square, candy-apple red nails and generous blonde streaks in her hair. He leans into her and she responds to whatever he has said with a tinkle of laughter.

Do you recognize these People-With-The-Perfect-Life?

Or, so I imagine.

Until my husband left us – quickly, cruelly, and without a satisfying explanation – I didn’t truly understand the phrase ‘come undone.’ Hours melted into months of stunned disbelief as I examined the past, scene by scene with the eye of a critical jeweller. Many, many weeks I cannot recall anything beyond staring into space, conscious only of the thud of my heart and an ever-present skittering of panic in my chest. Sleep was elusive. I once got up at 3:15 a.m. and stood looking at the little red fish in his bowl as he circled, pursing his lips. When I finally decided to make tea, I realized that I had been standing there for a full ninety minutes.

Some time has passed now, but I remain fascinated by how close to the surface the pain still bubbles. This perfect couple, for example.  I had that life. I had romantic, daily proclamations of love and cozy goals about house renovations, travel, and of course, our children. I miss that life. I mourn that innocence.

When I return to the pain, as I do this day, I am no longer surprised or alarmed; indeed, it’s much easier for me to accept that I will – I must – return to this place over and over. But in between I am mostly okay now. Small things help enormously: the girl at the market who compliments me on my earrings; the pale blue concern in my best friend’s eyes; a lovely man who fixes my lawn mower for free; fat, purple hyacinths swollen with their heady scent. These are the footholds that beckon me on and make me climb.

Having it all

By Kirthan Aujlay

This article was previously published on July 27, 2012.

Recently, Yahoo! hired a very pregnant Marissa Mayer as their new CEO. Marissa previously worked as the first female engineer at Google and had a key role in developing the design of Google’s homepage. Mayer is clearly a trailblazer, but this hiring seems to be part of a larger trend, as she becomes one of the 20 female CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies, many of whom are also mothers.

This brings up the age-old question of women being able to have it all. Although this may mean different things to different women, in order for women to balance having a demanding career and being a mother certain conditions need to be put in place. Canada has some of the best conditions in regards to maternity and paternity leave. It offers new mothers 52 weeks of paid maternity leave at 55% of the original wages, although the exact wages may depend on the province. After the first 17 weeks either the father or mother can take the additional 35 weeks of leave.

Some European countries offer even better benefits, such as Denmark, Serbia and Croatia, which all offer an entire year of leave with 100% of wages paid. But Sweden is leading the way in progressive parental leave. Working parents are entitled to 480 days  (16 months), and in an effort to encourage more paternal involvement, two of the 16 months must be taken by the “minority” parent.

Sadly, most mothers in the U.S., where Mayer works, are offered a measly twelve weeks of unpaid maternity leave, beating out Mexico and Pakistan for the worst conditions around the globe. American fathers are not offered a single day of paid paternity leave. Conditions in the U.S. speak to the fact that work traditionally viewed as “women’s work” such as child rearing, is still grossly undervalued by society.

It may be a while before governments begin changing their policies. However, some workplaces are beginning to appreciate the struggles faced by working parents, and are changing the landscape accordingly by offering onsite daycare for their employees’ children, or are allowing parents to work from home through email and videoconferencing. The issue isn’t so much whether new mothers can handle their workloads, but whether or not employers are willing to alter their views of how work should be completed. Although women have long been balancing work and motherhood, women like Marissa Mayer are challenging traditional notions of what it means to be a working mom.

Finally, it’s important to reiterate that having it all means different things for different people. Not every woman has an innate desire to become a mother and not every woman yearns to work her way up the corporate ladder. Homemaking blogs and Etsy shops are breathing new life into traditional domestic pursuits that many people view as old-fashioned or unimportant. At the same time, many young women are eschewing the entire notion of marriage and children and looking for fulfillment elsewhere. Whether women want one, the other, or everything, there is no right answer. All we know is that society is finally realizing that it is up to women to choose for themselves.

The push and pull of blog promotion: Part 2

After making progress with the art of pushing blog content to readers, it was time to drag more people directly to my blog. I required readers on my blog in order to increase the odds of collecting valuable feedback about the writing content, and to build momentum for future advertising revenue opportunities. To drag readers to my blog, I employed the strategies of pull marketing, with a ’social’ flare.

Social-izing Pull Marketing

Including the post link in a communication is intended to pull viewers directly to your content. An interest-sparking headline or lead-in prompts the reader to click to follow the content. If the writing fulfills its promise, visitors might be motivated to read other posts and become dedicated followers. If there are ads on the site that entice, viewer clicks may earn income for blog ads that represent a revenue source.

Pulling readers to your blog site provides the opportunity to create more loyal followers and potential for ad clicks. Since most advertising deals pay per click, more volume equals greater revenue. Once a viewer is on your site, they may also ‘like’, ‘share’ and ‘tweet’ your content so that other members of their network learn about the blog. Referrals are a great way to gain new readers. Having the credibility of the source contact increases the odds of connecting with their network audience.

The downside of pull marketing is relying on continued revisits from your readers. Since they will not be receiving an email or RSS feed notifying of the new post, their loyalty must be relied upon. This strategy requires them to make a decision to view each time they see notice of a new post through social media. To increase the odds they will continue to make an affirmative choice, quality post announcements are essential.

With pull promotion, the pitch that entices a reader to click must be enticing and succinct. For example, I recently wrote a blog post asking for opinions about telling my 8 year old how the Easter Bunny really delivers goodies to our home. The other option I have to deal with the truth is waiting until she hears something at school and decides to ask me. My actual question to readers was, “Do I tell my daughter the truth about the Easter Bunny?” My social media pitch, along with the blog link was, “Do I tell?”

Both are truthful, which is vital. A pitch that suggests something untrue about the content will make the reader feel they have been tricked into visiting your blog. The second pitch is more tempting for a wider audience of readers. If a reader is not interested in weighing in on the Easter Bunny decision, there is still the opportunity to entice them with another post on the site, since the pitch pulled them to your vast collection of content.

To push or to pull – that is the question. The answer is both. A balanced combination of both strategies will maximize the outcome. The size and quality of the promotion investment will be reflected in the results. The cost of marketing your blog content is almost entirely human resources. It takes a significant amount of time on the social media sites to organically develop relationships that are authentic.

Each site has its communication methods, language and etiquette. Social media experts debate the pros and cons of repeating content on multiple social media platforms. One point all social savvy individuals seem to agree on is the inevitable importance of these platforms for any business to compete.

 

Next column: Tweet to Compete