Boundless Energy and Achievement – Jill 4 Love4Gambia

In our ongoing lead up to the spring races in which runners and walkers from Team Love4Gambia will toe the start lines, we have been featuring some of the amazing people who are helping us make a difference in the lives of kids in the Gambia.

Meet Jill Donak, who is one of these amazing people.  Among plenty of things on her spring to do list, Jill will run the marathon in Ottawa Race Weekend this May and is raising funds for Love4Gambia.  Best of luck to Jill in all her endeavours and in this weekend’s Boston Marathon!

AM:  How long have you been a runner?

JD: I started running at the beginning of 2007.  I was recovering from a major depression that had forced me to drop out of college for the second time.  Running got me out of the house, and gave me something positive to focus on.  It was the start of a much-needed lifestyle over-haul.  I ran my first 10k in 2007; the sense of accomplishment and self-confidence propelled me to want to run a marathon.  I ran my first marathon that same year and qualified for the Boston Marathon.  Since then, I’ve gone on to participate in many more road and trail races, from New York, to Whistler, to the arduous Comrades Marathon in South Africa—always seeking to push myself further.  This spring I am looking forward to running my fourth Boston Marathon (on my 32nd birthday no less!) and finally graduating from college, before gearing up for Team Love4Gambia at Ottawa Race Weekend!

AM:  How did you become involved with Team Love4Gambia?

JD:  I had the pleasure of meeting Andrea in South Africa during the 2010 Comrades Marathon, and she became an instant inspiration.  I can’t remember exactly when or how I heard about Andrea’s running expedition for Love4Gambia, but I do know I didn’t have to think twice about wanting to support her!

Jill at Comrades in South Africa

AM:  Why is it important to you to run for The Gambia as part of Team Love4Gambia?

JD:  Running for Team Love4Gambia is important to me for several reasons.  My reasons for racing have always been quite personal, but it feels like it’s time to give back to the running community that has given me so much.  I also have a lot of love for West Africa.  When I was younger, I had the opportunity to live in Ghana for three months, which is not far from The Gambia.  I witnessed both the beauty and struggles of the people in that region.  Running for Team Love4Gambia not only supports Andrea, but many of the things I care about.

AM:  What’s been the easiest part of your training this cycle?

JD:  There’s an easy part?

AM:  What’s been the most challenging part of training?

JD:  Balancing training with everything else I’ve got going on in my life.  I went back to college to complete a double diploma­—a challenge on its own.   This semester I was also doing a work placement at a law firm one day a week, and working at New Balance Ottawa on weekends.  Throw in moving into a new apartment and taking a trip to Boston for the marathon just before finals­­—giving busy a new meaning!  I think I must thrive on the chaos. 

AM:  Has anything surprised you in your training?

JD:  That I am capable of far more than I ever imagined.  I went through a depressive relapse at the end of 2010, which led to my decision return to college.  I had a lot of self-doubt about my ability to handle school.  I went relatively easy with my racing in 2011, so I could focus on my studies; however, I began marathon training again this winter.  Much to my surprise, it has been one of my most successful training cycles.  I say this because both my grades and my running are strong, and, unlike the past, I have not suffered from any injuries.

AM:  What are you most looking forward to on race day?

JD:  My first race was at Ottawa Race Weekend in 2007.  That weekend literally changed my life.  Ever since then, I look forward to Ottawa Race Weekend like it is Christmas.  I love the energy in the city.  I love how it brings out the running community by the thousands.  I love how for one weekend we shed our social classes and identities to enjoy the sport of running.  Enjoying a few beers and gorging on all-you-can-eat sushi after finishing a marathon isn’t so bad either.

AM:  What is your favorite part of running?

JD:  Though it is the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other, in more ways than one, running has given me life.  It has given me the self-confidence and discipline to pursue other challenges in my life.   It has taught me to appreciate my body for all its strengths.  Through running, I’ve crossed paths with some of the most extraordinary people who continue to inspire me.  I even get a chance to inspire others through my own journey.  Quite simply put­­—it makes me feel good!

AM:  Where is the most unusual place you’ve run?

JD:  To cross it off my bucket list, I ran the Wreck Beach Bare Buns Run in 2011.  For those unfamiliar with the race, it is a 5km “clothing optional” race which takes place on the nude beach in Vancouver.  I would do it again!

AM:  How do you keep motivated?

JD:  They say that once you’ve been to the bottom, there’s nowhere to go but up.

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