Welcome to our “Moments of Will” series, where we’ll feature community members who have faced adversity on their health and fitness journeys, only to come back stronger and better than ever. While they could have let their challenges keep them from their goals, each of them found the will to fight for their physical, emotional and mental health.
There are few feelings as frustrating as having an injury disrupt your training plans. Valerie Daniels, 66, was in the midst of training for her very first race — a 12-kilometer charity walk — when the dream of a new personal accomplishment was dashed by an unfortunate accident. As it turns out, this would give her even more determination.
FINDING HER STRIDE
As a retired nurse and health consultant (and grandmother to two “very active children”), health has always been high on Daniels’ list of priorities. “Being a former nurse, I had good knowledge of nutrition and I used to walk daily with my dogs,” she says. But developing a fitness routine — and ultimately, bigger health goals — was foreign to her until her husband’s work took him out of state and she found herself spending a lot of time at home alone.
“After being in a busy role where I worked long hours for many years, I dreaded retirement,” she says. “Exercise was going to be a hobby to keep me occupied, however, I quickly became addicted.”
As a healthy hobby, Daniels started walking around the beachside community where she lives in Western Australia. “The walking community here is massive, and I would see and exchange good mornings with 50–100 people walking and running along the designated beachside walking routes in the early morning,” she says. “I really connected to the community.”
Before long, Daniels was walking 6–12 kilometers a day; she was ready to turn her hobby into a goal. Inspired by friends who had done races in the past, she signed up for a 12K walk and started training to set her first personal best.
DOWN, BUT NOT OUT
Two months later, Daniels was on vacation with her husband when she hit a bump in the road — literally. While walking on the beach, she tripped over a rope, landing hard. “I was unable to walk as my left big toe was sticking upwards and my right knee was swollen like a football,” she says. She went to a local hospital where she discovered the tendon in her big toe had stretched so abruptly in the fall, it had actually pulled off a piece of bone. Her knee was also badly strained.
Although she was unable to compete in the charity walk due to her injuries, Daniels wasn’t ready to give up. “When I couldn’t take part in the event in May, I re-focused and decided to enter the Color Run being held in Perth city in November,” she says.
But Daniels was again derailed — this time with an unexpected gallbladder surgery — taking her out of her training routine for another eight weeks and causing her to miss yet another race.
FINDING THE WILL
While “just setbacks and not catastrophes,” as Daniels tells it, her stumbles on the road to her first race could have easily caused her to give up. Still, “there was never any question in my mind about not continuing to build on my achievements,” she says. “In fact, the setbacks made me more determined if anything.” She credits two things for being able to keep reaching for her goal: her positive attitude and her support system.
“I am naturally a very positive and determined person and have been called a ‘silent achiever,’” she says. “I am a goal setter and need to have those goals and objectives for myself to work toward.” On top of that, Daniels says she’s always been good at tuning out her inner doubter (and any outside naysayers). “I just focus on achieving my goals,” she says.
But aside from her natural disposition, a supportive team of cheerleaders helped her find the will to keep working toward that goal. “When I had surgery, my medical practitioner and surgeon were both really impressed with my commitment to health and fitness,” she shares. “I guess what gave me the inspiration not to give up was that admiration and praise along with their advice and support regarding a recovery plan to get back into exercising. I also had some really positive role models amongst my family and circle of friends who have given me lots of support and encouragement — my husband being my greatest supporter.”
RACING TO THE FINISH LINE
Because she’s overcome her setbacks (not in spite of them), Daniels has started to think about even bigger health goals. “My experience has taught me that tomorrow is not a given and that things can change in an instant, but that you can come back from injury and illness even stronger and more determined,” she says. She recently started doing yoga and joined Plus Fitness, a gym close to where she lives, so she could amp up her strength-training routine. “This was the best thing I ever did — it’s a small community gym with a great vibe and fabulous (and fun) trainers who give me lots of encouragement,” she shares.
A year later than originally planned, Daniels is set to complete her 12K charity race this May. Upon receiving her race T-shirt, bib and timing chip in the mail, she was excited to know it was really, finally, happening. “My health and fitness journey has enriched my life beyond expectation and I have never been happier,” she says.