You might recognize Megan Chrostowski was our 2017 Success Stories Winner.
And fun fact: Megan's Dad was our Success Stories Winner in 2015, and ultimately inspired Megan to take her health into her own hands, and start on her own fitness journey! Watch her story below.
So where is Megan now? We'll tell you.
Megan is a mom of three, a graduate student at UBC pursuing an M.A. in Inclusive Education, and a teacher in Vancouver.
She's finishing her parental leave from teaching, and is starting work on her thesis. Her kids are 9 1/2, almost 8, and 2 1/2 - so she says she has "an entertaining (and sometimes exhausting) mix of pre-tween eye-rolling, energetic 8-year-old, and that toddler dichotomy of melt-downs and sweetness."
Her oldest child has Cerebral Palsy and uses a wheelchair or walker to get around, which means Megan and her husband have to help her with many physical tasks (although she can kick Megan's butt at board games) and her care is the biggest reason Megan started working out with a personal trainer at SNFC. She had to get strong enough to lift her in and out of the bathtub only 6 months postpartum with baby 3–or get home care–which she neither wanted, nor could she really afford.
We asked what a typical day looks like in the Chrostowski household and this is what Megan said:
On a school day, it’s all hands on deck to get the three kids up and ready for school. My husband drops them off via bike / wheelchair every morning. We are trying to be as car-free as possible (“We have to save the polar bears, Mom!”, says my 8 year old), although that is not always possible, and usually not easy, due to our mobility and equipment needs. Once they are off to school and I deal with the chaos whirlwind of the morning routine, I either work on my school tasks or the giant family to-do list, which usually involves coordinating the ongoing paperwork, emails and phone calls to coordinate M’s therapy sessions, wheelchair and equipment maintenance, new leg braces, advocacy, etc., as well as whatever is needed for the rest of the family (I’m not the only one whose family is a year late going to the dentist, right?!). When I work on my school work, I often work at the coffee shop across the street. I call it my “office."
And fitness! I try for 30 minutes a day - a run, bike, or swim, or my 30 minute home workouts made by my awesome trainer, Alex. I go to the gym to work with him once a week.
SNFC: Megan, you were our 2017 Success Stories Winner – tell us about your life since then!
MC: Yes! That was such an incredible, uplifting time! I am so grateful for that! Moms don’t often get the same kind of validation that one can get in an outside of home workplace. So, to have worked so hard and had someone see it and celebrate it, has had a lasting impact.
Just after the 2017 Success Stories event, I was invited to participate in a Paratriathlon camp with the Paralympic team in Victoria. It was an incredible experience and my first insight into elite sport.
I have a degenerative neuromuscular condition called CMT and was the clumsy kid who always wanted to be an athlete. I took up triathlon during that first year of working with a trainer at SNFC in 2017. I wanted to see if I could do it. Not only could I do it, I loved it!
After the Para camp, I wanted to look into getting a coach and some proper equipment. In 2018, I did a proper bike fit, had a PT session with SNFC Downtown’s Gemma Slaughter around triathlon and running, and got a run analysis done to see if I should be running with leg braces due to foot drop I experience due to the CMT. In other words, I put some focus onto triathlon and put my heart into having a good season. I did several races including a 5k run, the North Shore Tri, the Aquathlon at the World Multi-sport Championships in Penticton, and my favourite, the Vancouver Triathlon in Stanley Park.
This year, I have had some health issues and am researching and writing my thesis, so have decided to change up my goals and split up my sports for the most part. My plan is to run a 5k (did the CFA Hot Chocolate Run), a 10k (a huge stretch for me because running is difficult and slow for me with my legs), an open water swim race, and, if possible, the Whistler Gran Fondo! I’ll probably also do one short-course tri as well. I also have continued to work with a trainer weekly at the gym. I’ve worked with several different trainers as people have moved, etc., and I learn new things from each one.
I’m currently working with the super awesome Alex Montague at Kits and his focus on body mechanics and mind-body pathways (something that’s very weak for me with CMT) has me able to do movement that I never, ever imagined I could do, and has directly translated to better quality of life with my kids.
What do you love about fitness?
I love feeling strong! LOVE it! It was never my normal state of affairs, so I revel in it now. I just turned 43, so I also love the fantastic hormone-balancing effects of exercise. I can’t emphasize this enough and tell all of my friends about it. It keeps me sane.
I love being able to keep up with my family and feel able to take on whatever adventure we want to try. I love being able to carry my daughter across sand so she can join beach day at school (wheelchairs don’t usually go well on sand), and be able to help her with her daily needs without being in pain.
I was in chronic pain and constant injury for years before I started working out. I tried everything from acupuncture to physiotherapy and hands down, working with a knowledgeable trainer has made me pain free where nothing else did.
How do you incorporate fitness into your personal life?
I try for 30 minutes a day. This started just a few days postpartum with baby #3 using gentle new mom exercise DVDs and progressed to challenging home workouts made by my trainer. I was very open about how much time I would be able to actually spend in the gym (once a week) and asked for home routines right away. Sometimes, I’ve had to ask for a 5-10 minute core routine only, and other times I’ve gone into the gym on extra days to workout for longer. But, I think the 30 minutes a day is pretty manageable. I take the kids with me on runs, with one in her power wheelchair, one on her bike and one in her stroller.
I take the little one on bike training rides in the trailer. I would usually do my workout while the baby napped, if I was working out at home. For triathlon, I do the short-course distance (1k swim, 20k bike, 5k run) so I can manage that in the time I have.
Because I didn’t have a choice (it was either get strong or not be able to lift my child), I just made it part of the routine. It is SO worth it!
How has fitness has influenced the way you parent?
We have some kind of outside time/physical activity everyday. I think that having the kids watch me doing my workouts (and sometimes joining in–nothing like trying to do plank with a kid on your butt!), and talking about why I was doing it, helps them to understand not only about the importance of fitness, but also in having a growth mindset–the mindset that we can improve. We all have weak areas and challenges, and we can work to improve them. That mental flexibility is so important in life.
I always thought I was “not sporty,” “not an athlete.” I was pretty negative about my (lack of) ability and about how clumsy I am. But, that has changed. And I cannot be that role model for my kids, especially when one has a physical disability! I showed myself and my kids that I can set a goal (an outrageous one at that!) and work for it and accomplish it, with support and a plan.
What are your favourite activities to do with your family to stay healthy and fit?
This is a funny one right now because we have such a wide range of abilities in our family and sometimes just getting out the door feels like an epic workout!
My husband is an ultra runner (e.g. trail runs of 50k - 100k and up), I have been doing Paratriathlon (I am much slower than my husband so we never train together), one child uses a wheelchair, one is a pretty typical 8 year old physically, and one is a toddler. What on earth can we do together?
We do bike commute daily (with M in her power chair), and bike around campus. We swim together–the kids love the pool! We ski together (without the toddler at this point–thanks, grandparents!), and M uses a sit-ski. We also go sailing as a family and try to get out for forest walks in Pacific Spirit Park when we can.
I remember in 2010 when Alexandre Bilodeau won the Olympic gold medal in moguls and his family was featured on the CBC. His older brother has Cerebral Palsy. His mom talked about how Alex loved hockey, and was good at it, but it was not good for his brother. They needed to find something they could do as a family, so they discussed it and chose skiing. They all enjoyed being at the hill. We have also had those conversations in our family and try to choose things we can do together.
But, we also talk openly about how we all need a chance to experience our passions at the level we each need - so daddy needs a chance to run 100k with 3000+m of vertical, mommy needs to have alone time at the pool or in the ocean for 1-2k swims, and the kids need to develop their passions at their level as well. This means we don’t always go together. Sometimes we take M in the sit-ski on her own because she is much faster than her little sister. Sometimes one of us takes our middle child on a hike, while the other takes the gondola up with M in her wheelchair and E in her stroller. So, it’s a balance of together time and pursuing individual passions so we can each improve.
Tell us what your mom does that makes her amazing!