When Maude Cyr was a girl, growing up in Rimouski, Québec, a friend of hers experienced domestic abuse. She confided in Maude. When Maude took this information to her parents, her parents did what was expected of them. They told Maude it wasn’t any of their business. “Things that happen in a family, stay in the family.”
“It was something that we had to keep secret,” remembers Maude. She was frustrated by this, but didn’t mention it to any other adults.
Still, the seed of her desire to protect and support children and women enduring violence within their homes, began there.
When she was 23, Maude and her partner moved to Pemberton, started a family and Maude started working as an educational assistant at the Ecole de la Vallee.
One day, the day before Christmas holidays, while supervising recess, a teacher at Signal Hill commented to her, “Can you believe there are more children than you think on this schoolground who are not happy to be going on a 2 week break from school, because their home is not safe?”
“When I look at all the children in the classroom,” says Maude, “I hope each of them is secure in their family home.” But the statistics are sobering: approximately two to six children and youth in every Canadian classroom have witnessed some form of abuse in the home over the past year.
That sparked a fierce protective fire in Maude, that only grew when the pandemic was declared and our worlds contracted to the size of our immediate family and the shape of our houses. Many of us were so busy trying to adjust and cope with the new situation, that we weren’t able to the meaningfully respond to the warning flags being triggered, advising that many women and children were experiencing an increase in domestic violence.
“Children and youth are an easy target for a stressed-out adult to express their anger and anxiety,” says Maude. But her understanding of childhood development makes her aware of the massive impact that childhood experiences of violence or abuse have. Like building a house, a problem with the foundation takes a lot longer to repair than a problem with the doors. “Experiencing or witnessing abuse or violence during early development can cause a child to become an adult who’ll be more likely to need help to balance their mental health in order to have a successful and happy life.”
We all felt an increase in stress when the pandemic was declared. Recalls Maude, “I think it was a big adjustment for all of us.” We were drawing on our own tools for coping with the stress, anxiety and uncertainty, or realising that we needed to develop better coping skills. She started meditating 5-10 minutes a day, with the help of a practising friend. “She helped me learn how to focus on my breathing, without being strict with myself and accepting my thousands of thoughts I had during meditation.”
It was one day, while meditating, that she came up with the idea: she would run to raise funds for kids experiencing domestic violence.
Running was something Maude had discovered 11 years earlier, while experiencing post partum depression. “I was seeing a doctor back in Quebec and she told me to take these drugs. I took them for the first two weeks and my energy went up, but I knew that it was not natural, so I searched how to get serotonin hormones quickly through the body. The first thing that came up was exercise. I was mostly doing yoga, and all I was interested in was my baby son. I needed something that pumped my heart quickly and efficiently. So one pouring rainy day, I took my sister’s running shoes, and ran off in the rain for more than an hour. I enjoyed every second of it. I became a runner.”
Running in nature and on trails has become her way to connect with herself. She runs almost every day – even if she’s not training for a long race, running is her outlet. “I love it. It brings me simple joy and makes me a better mom, friend, woman, educator and wife”
After entering the IronMan in Pemberton just after her now 4 year old daughter was born, Maude began competing in long distance races. In the summer of 2019, she placed 3rd in the women’s category of a few 55km mountain races. “I was surprised every time! I think my deep love of racing has allowed me to reach the podium without even trying all year. I am just a woman who enjoys the movement of running in nature for several minutes and hours! I like knowing that my body has the capacity to go where it wants and when it wants.”
Before the 55km race she ran in the fall of 2019, her coach took the time to write her a letter to prepare her mentally. Maude’s takeaway from that advice is to tell herself, “whatever happens, keep smiling.” Literally forcing a smile when it hurts, she has discovered, works. “Also I think about the human beings throughout history who’ve experienced war, genocide, famime, or just the people suffering in our community with illness, addiction, mental health. I am so privileged. I have everything I need to be happy. I can run and have a little pain in my knee, glutes or calf. Not a problem. I am grateful for what I have everyday.”
So, with her 2020 plans, to race the 110km Whistler Alpine Meadows ultra cancelled, Maude turned her energy and passion to the question: how can I help?
“I would love to be able to be invisible and have a look in houses and see that all children are safe and secure. But I can’t. So, I use my power as an educator to teach children and youth about violence and abuse. I educate them about good touching and bad touching, personal limits, resources, how to ask for help, healthy relationships, about their rights as a child. That way, I feel better knowing that they have tools in their tool box of life to protect themselves and become a balanced citizen, father, mother, friend and partner.”
And more immediately, she committed to raising $3000 for the Howe Sound Women’s Centre, for their programs to support children experiencing violence.
The sum will allow 10 children or youth to experience counselling, and help the Howe Sound Women’s Centre do school visits to help educate students about healthy relationships, and the tools that prevent violence and abuse in their family or around them.
So, on Saturday September 26, from 11am to 3pm, Maude Cyr will strap on her running shoes and set out from the Howe Sound Women’s Centre in Squamish, to run 110km along the Sea to Sky trail to Mount Currie, in the Lil’wat Nation.
“I want to connect with the entire Sea to Sky community and let them know that support services for children and young living with abuse and violence are there to help them. I would most importantly acknowledging and be grateful that I will be running on Sḵwx̱wú7mesh nation and Lil’wat nation territory.”
Her partner and her two children will be her support crew, following in the car and bringing her nutrition and snacks. “There’s nothing better than having the smiles of my children to encourage me.”
Several friends who share a passion for this cause have offered to accompany her along parts of the trail – and even though she had planned to run solo, she welcomes the support.
With 2 weeks to go, Maude is over halfway to her fundraising goal – having raised $1855. Every $300 she raises will help another child benefit from a counselling program. Help out at https://www.canadahelps.org/en/pages/run-to-end-children-and-youth-from-violence-and-ab/
You can also show your support at Maude’s facebook page: https://m.facebook.com/Run-to-end-violence-and-abuse-to-children-and-youth-130411538471163/