“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” - Mark Twain -
It wasn’t the crushing weight of a pack carrying sufficient food, water and gear to sustain this Okanagan woman for seven days. It wasn’t navigating the barren, inhospitable terrain of the high desert through Arizona and Utah. It wasn’t even the debilitating exhaustion and sleep deprivation, the incessant rain or the three inches of mud accumulated under each shoe. It was the blisters. Raw, swollen, blackened and bloody, she looked down at the things she used to call her toes and wondered, why? Why am I doing this?
It is a question 46-year-old Crystal Flaman, a professional speaker and social entrepreneur, has asked herself plenty of times during the course of finishing a host of extreme endurance races: 11 Ironman triathlons and two Grand-to-Grand Ultras (273-kilometres in seven brutal days, from the rim of the Grand Canyon to the summit of Utah’s Grand Staircase).
Her answer is simply, “I run for life!” Then she adds, “And hopefully to make the world a bit better, brighter place.”
When the Why Become Big Enough…
Flaman believes that when the why becomes big enough, the how becomes easy!
“So if it gets really ugly out there and I lose my motivation to go on...” She flashes an effervescent grin. “First I swear – really loudly - then I ask myself, ‘Why is finishing this crazy event important to me?’”
The why’s that have pushed this petite powerhouse have been such worthy causes as: Room to Read, the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada and the Canadian Diabetes Association. To date, Flaman has raised in excess of 1.4 million dollars “running for life” and that amount is still growing.
“I am just choosing my next race. I think it will be another multi-day endurance event...perhaps in Cambodia,” she says. “But I want my focus for funding to be more local. I’d like to help those in need in our own community in 2017.”
It Started as Twins on a Tandem
From a close family of 10 children, Flaman’s path in philanthropy started with her twin, Carla, when they were 23-years-old.
Their beloved mom had successfully survived life-saving, open-heart surgery, so the sisters decided to ride across Canada on a tandem bike – their way of giving thanks. They were followed by a boyfriend-driven RV which carried their gear and provided a bed each night. With all the media stops, school talks and promotional meetings with sponsors, it took them 93 cycling days, but the “Twins on a Tandem” raised half a million dollars for the Heart and Stroke Foundation.
“It was a trip of a lifetime...the first tandem to cross the country.” Flaman smiles at the memory. “We even got into the Guinness Book of World Records.”
When asked how she chooses a cause, she explains, “I pick charities that are close to my heart...ones that have either benefitted family or somehow have spoken to me. I also look carefully at fiscal responsibility. I will only support those that steward their donations well.”
Once committed to an event and a charity, Flaman trains – or, at least she thinks about training. She says, “These types of races are more mental than physical.” Laughing, she adds, “That being said, I know from painful experience when I don’t train it can be a suffer-fest. It is, even when I train properly.
It’s weird, something takes over inside, pulling me forward. Whatever it is, it doesn’t allow me to surrender to my demons. I think we all have an inner creature that is much stronger than we know. The key is to harness that.”
As she’s training, Flaman raises money for her charity of choice. She says, “By begging, pleading, bartering (trading speeches for donations) and organizing events of every description the funds trickle in... social media is a huge help.”
Great Big Okanagan Run for Africa
In 2005, Flaman and her friend, Stephanie Moore, ran 100 kilometres, from Enderby to West Kelowna, to raise funds for Partners in the Horn of Africa, a charity that provides micro-financing to African women to enable them to start their own businesses and thereby feed their families.
It was just the two of them - not a sanctioned or organized race. When the going got tough, instead of giving up, the gals took turns imagining the exciting businesses they were making possible for less privileged African women: money for making crafts to sell at local market stalls; funds for materials to weave baskets and to buy laying hens; equipment for a new haircutting business.
Their why’s worked wonders and they arrived in West Kelowna having raised $7,000. A bit shy of their $10,000 goal, they were undaunted. It was just the start. For the next 10 years, these Okanagan women organized and participated in the same run as an annual relay event, “Great Big Run for Africa”, and raised a total of approximately $160,000 for the cause.
In recognition of her contributions at a national level, in 2014 Flaman was presented with the “Peter Legge Philanthropist of the Year Award” at the Global Speakers Summit.
“I heard Peter Legge speak about 20 years ago,” she recalls. “The values he talked about have shaped my life. The award was a compliment and huge honour, one I never imagined.”
It is Flaman’s sincere belief that we are all here to share our own unique gifts and talents, whatever they may be. She says, “I think one of mine is to move physically...I’m not fast, but I’m steady. I finish at the back half of any race and that’s okay with me.”
To her, it’s ‘crystal’ clear! She was born to move with purpose. And she’s doing just that - one foot in front of the other towards her goal of making a difference in this world!
For more information about this inspiring Okanagan Woman, visit her website: www.inspiringsuccess.ca.