For the first three kilometres of every run, Suzanne Tobler finds herself thinking “I can’t do it.”
But after five minutes of what she calls her “pity party,” she carries on with her run—all sixteen kilometres of it.
A familiar sight along the roads in and around L’Orignal, Suzanne is often referred to as the “Pink Lady.” When she began running ten years ago, Suzanne adopted vibrant pink as the colour for her running gear. She finds pink helps with both visibility and recognition.
“People wave at me,” says Suzanne, who has lived in L’Orignal for three years. “And they notice when I don’t run.”
Although running is a recently acquired activity for 69 year-old Tobler, she grew up in a physically active family. Suzanne (who has asked us to refer to her by her first name) was born in Switzerland and grew up in Chile. She skied with her family in the Andes mountains and, when the family returned to Switzerland, in the Alps.
But before they skied down, they “skinned” up—walking up the slopes on their skis instead of taking chairlifts. In summertime, the family hiked. After Suzanne married and had children, she bicycled all over Switzerland with her sons. Now, one of her sons or grandchildren occasionally joins Suzanne for runs.
Running is something Suzanne chose to take up during a challenging period in her life. She discovered running was a way to delve inside and find her essential self.
“I’ve had huge struggles in my life,” says Suzanne, simply. But she doesn’t like to spend time or energy dwelling on the past, which she knows cannot be changed. Instead, she focuses on changing her perception.
“When you’re running,” Suzanne says, “you can be in your bubble. You can work on you.”
Running also proved to be an effective remedy for Suzanne’s chronic pain from fibromyalgia. The physical activity of running releases endorphins, which, Suzanne says, is the best way to manage her pain.
“Medication for chronic pain isn’t always the answer,” says Suzanne,who enjoys many pain-free hours after a run.
After seven years of running, completing her first marathon in San Diego in 2017 was an emotional, as well as a physical, triumph.
“When I crossed the finish line,” says Suzanne, “I was just sobbing—I was so happy!”
Suzanne followed up that marathon with two more: Ottawa in 2018, and Toronto in 2019, and several half-marathons.
During the Toronto marathon, another runner in her thirties almost gave up. Suzanne gave her encouragement and, the woman, taking inspiration from the older woman’s example, finished the run.
Several people have told Suzanne they find her inspiring. Initially this surprised Suzanne, who saw running as something she did just for herself.
“I realized that how other people perceive us can often be quite different from how we think of ourselves,” says Suzanne. “You have to look into the eyes of others to see how you’re reflected there.”
Suzanne has grown more comfortable with being an inspiration to others.
“I just put one foot in front of the other,” is Suzanne’s response when asked how she does it.
“It’s a matter of prodding yourself a little bit,” says Suzanne. “You need to focus on how good you’ll feel after.”
Suzanne runs four days every week. On the other three days, she walks. If the weather is too cold (-15°C is about her limit), Suzanne runs on her treadmill at home.
To celebrate her 70th birthday in 2020, Suzanne will fulfill her dream of walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain. The pilgrimage draws thousands each year who walk to the shrine of the apostle St. James, in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. Suzanne’s pilgrimage route will begin in Vézelay, France, some 1400 kilometres from Santiago de Compostela, Spain.
Suzanne plans to set up her camino trek as a fundraiser for mental health, a cause she thinks is often overlooked. She expects to complete the trek across France and Spain in six weeks, but has allowed time for eight.
Until her camino trek next year, Suzanne will run the roads around L’Orignal, wearing her trademark pink—and a smile.