Three-time Olympian Leah Pells, recently published her autobiography, Not About the Medal. The story is indeed not about the medal and is very much about growing up with an alcoholic mother. She ran from a very early age and enjoyed it as a sport and as a form of escapism from her troubles and perhaps therapy. Pells’ despite her upbringing persevered.
At one point during her athletic career she was ranked as high as fourth in the world in the 1500m distance and had achieved a fourth place finish during the 1996 Atlanta Olympics Games. She also competed in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and 2000 Sydney Games, plus competed in six IAAF World Track and Field Championships and won silver in the 1999 Pan American Games.
Today she holds two degrees in Psychology and Education and is now completing her Masters in Counselling Psychology.
1500m – 4:03.56
Mile – 4:23.28
3000m – 9:10.10
CK: The process of writing the book must have been therapeutic. When you had completed the book, did you get a sense of closure or perhaps healing?
LP: Yes I did feel a sense of completion when the book was done. I have been healing for a long time, but I needed to connect with people’s ability to be compassionate as my way to bring healing to the painful life I witnessed my Mum experience. Shame prevents healing for many people, it’s why I chose to be open and honest. I needed to write this book.
CK: And perhaps no longer needing to have control over a competitive career as a compensatory act for all the lack of control you experienced in life growing up?
LP: I agree. My need to control is much less. I still need a certain degree of control in my life, as I am just that way, I have let go of my need to control others, but I still like to know what I am doing in advance and I am a very organized person.
CK: A little Type-A?
LP: Yay a lot type-A. I am a work in progress…haha…I am very hard on myself, but very at ease with others. I can be calm and relaxed for my students, but still push myself very hard. I am trying to be more mindful of the moments in the day.
CK: Does you son Luke have any idea what life was like for you growing up?
LP: Luke is starting to have a idea that it was different than the way he is growing up. Luke has a stable and safe home, he is at ease in our home. I have talked with him a little about what addiction means and is. Mostly teaching him compassion for when we see someone who may be struggling. I try to explain that everyone deserves to love and to be loved. He understands that. He knows I loved my Mum and that she was thrilled when he was born.
CK: At what age will you let him read the book?
LP: I will know when the time is right for Luke to read the book. We will have more discussions around addiction and compassion and of course a lot will depend on Luke, I feel that I will just know on a intuitive level when he is ready to read the book.
CK: You mentioned, “the life I witnessed my Mum experience.” The book is about your life and centred on your Mum and her addiction. You didn’t write very deeply about your father or brother. Were you conflicted about whether you should do full characterizations on them and include them in the story at a greater level, to keep the story centred on her?
LP: I was concerned not to write someone else’s story. This book is about my Mum, her addiction, what that was like for me and for her, and the way I found running. I made a deliberate choice not to write any details on my dad, step Mum Lana or my brother., Lance. I just felt it would not be fair for me to say what it was like for them, or to give up too many details about them. I am ok with what I am sharing, but they may not be. That is their choice to make, not mine. It’s funny as many people have asked me that question, why my Dad and Lance are not in the book more. It was because I love them, and I am protective of them. I tried very hard to be true to “my” own perceptions, memories and feelings. I have a very close relationship with my Dad, Lana and Lance and this was something I needed very much to do, but I was careful to keep the focus on my Mum and myself.
CK: The book will have a life of its own and the story in it lives, even though perhaps part of the deal with writing it was to provide closure. Is that a metaphor for the ongoing healing you live with everyday anyway?
LP: That is a excellent way to put it, Chris. Life is a process of healing, learning and loving and the book has already brought so much more of that to my life. I am really hoping in some way it does the same for others who have lived with a alcoholic/addict. For me to write the book helped me find my meaning in life, and that is to give and to love. I have such clarity about my life now, and that is a very good feeling.
CK: Currently you are a teacher and at the same time you are working on a Masters degree in psychology, yes?
LP: This is correct. I teach full time at CABE in Coquitlam, which is a alternative secondary school. I love teaching and I learn so much each day from the amazing kids I have the pleasure to work with. I am also working on my Masters in counselling psychology at UBC. My hope is to be a school counsellor in a alternative program. What I love about the counselling program is that it is helping me to be a better listener and communicator and that is great for all areas of life.
CK: How is the book selling?
LP: The book is doing very well at this point. But as long as it creates change in some people in regards to addiction, I am happy. For some reason Chapters will not carry it, so only being able to sell from my website is a bit of a challenge. Some folks do not like to buy on-line, so that has made it tough.
CK: In regards to the book launch at the Vancouver Public Library, what was that experience like? Can you describe the day?
LP: The launch was a situation where I had to put myself out there in a very social way. I am not really a social person, and I feel awkward when I am the center of attention. But I recognized that to create change in the way we perceive alcoholism/addiction I need to get my book out there and to get my book out there I need to have book signings and that kind of thing. The nice thing was seeing so many familiar faces that I have not seen in years. People can be very giving and that was a day where I received a great deal.
CK: When you were competing at the top of your game, how many weekly miles of training were you putting in?
LP: When I was competing, I ran between 50-70 miles a week. I was very consistent, but never did huge weekly mileage. It was not necessary for the 1500m. I liked to feel fresh and strong for all my track sessions with Mike (Lonergan), and so we found between 50-70 (depending on the season) was the right amount.
CK: You still run everyday. How far away from race fitness are you? Do you think you will one day, for fun, try to go for some age-group records or wins?
LP: Right now I am very far from race fitness. I know my body so well and I would say I am about a year of hard running away from being in a place where I would race. I raced for many years and I have no desire at this time to race. I have moved my energy from running to writing, teaching, being a Mum, and my Masters. I still run about 5km a day and longer when we are on holidays. Running is me, and I am running, it will always be this way, but I do not “need “to race to get what I need from running. I am really enjoying the freedom of just running, no watch, no intervals. I run as I feel on that day. The only thing that is constant is my love of running.