Danny Kerslake

We do not run away. We run with.

By Danny Kerslake

When I run I carry a lot of weight. The weight of trauma, anger, and sadness. Stride by stride, thoughts and emotions mix with laboured breathing, a fast beating heart, and fatigue, in an alchemy of healing and transformation. This is life-blood.

I started running late in life. The motivation was to get back into shape and to feel stronger. Running has always helped with life’s challenges. A couple of examples…it helped me cope with a long period of depression, and to recover from a broken heel.

In the summer of 2022, I was putting the finishing touches on training for Ironman Canada in Penticton, B.C. An Ironman Triathlon is a 3.9-kilometer swim, a 180-kilometer bike ride, and then a full marathon. I’m not good at any of these events, but challenges keep me motivated and I was ready. But I would be tested in ways that I couldn’t even imagine.

My dad died on July 30. It was not unexpected. Jerry was a truck driver. He worked hard, and he was a life-long smoker with a bad truck stop diet. My dad suffered a series of strokes that left him partially paralyzed and unable to walk. It was lung cancer that killed him in the end.

Jerry Kerslake early in his truck driving career.
Jerry Kerslake early in his truck driving career.

I’d already dealt with my complicated relationship with my father out on those running trails. I came to understand his absence, and his anger. My dad grew up tough, and dropped out of school in Grade 8, but he did his best to give us a middle class life. He had to keep the truck rolling.

I wanted to keep going, and honour him with that Ironman finish.

But days later my son Elijah died. This was not expected. Eli loved to skateboard, and was a talented graffiti artist. But in the final years of his life my son struggled. He went down the wrong path, and spent some time in jail. Behind that tough exterior though, Elijah was a sweet, sensitive young man. He died of an accidental drug overdose.

Elijah Kerslake and his skateboard.
Elijah Kerslake and his skateboard.

I was crushed by his death. The race didn’t happen. For months, I sought comfort and quiet with a small circle of people who love me. I can’t recall many of the details from that period. At some point it made sense to put on my shoes, and get moving again, to feel that burn in my lungs, my pounding heart, and that grief.

What else could I do, but run?

It’s hard to articulate why this works for me, but a teacher of mine recently reminded me that exercise can help release emotional knots.

“Whenever we alter one of the body, breath, or mind triad the others are influenced,” she says. “With running, as you are involved in rigorous alteration of body and breath, the effect upon the mind can be profound.”

Danny Kerslake runs the 2023 Vancouver Marathon.
Danny Kerslake runs the 2023 Vancouver Marathon.

To run with grief is not to forget. It is not a distraction. Eli and my pop are with me, but it does not feel like a burden. As I engage the body and the breath, running gives me the time and space to recall all the happy times I had with my boy, or to feel grateful for a father that worked hard for his family. To run with grief is to honour these two flawed men (three if you count me), to forgive, and to embrace the unconditional love I feel for them both. Again, it is an alchemy of healing and transformation.

On the run now I know that I am not alone. There’s people like me just trying to work it out, trying to keep it all together. I see you. Maybe you are training and raising money for a cure to something that took your loved one. Maybe you’re wearing pink socks or a f**** cancer T-shirt. Perhaps you carry a precious memento in your pocket.

We do not run away. We run with. And slowly, we get stronger.

Danny Kerslake is a long-serving journalist with CBC Radio. For the past decade he has worked as the morning news presenter for CBC’s local radio show Saskatoon Morning. He’s also a runner and triathlete.