The energetic involvement of a village enables, encourages, and supports loved ones affected with a brain tumour. Taking the positive from the negative can make a great difference in someone’s life. When these experiences are shared, a community can develop and thrive.
“Everyone included in the Banff Jasper Relay has their own reason for participating whether it’s just for the race or fundraising for Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada. I’m extremely proud to be part of that,” smiles Chelsea Medcalfe.
The founders—as well as their friends and families, of the Banff Jasper Relay have been affected, or know of a person who has been diagnosed with a brain tumour.
The original race was held from 1980 until 2000. The race ran from Jasper to Banff and the later stages of the event were even run during the darkness of night. However, in 2000, the race was discontinued.
To honor friend and fellow runner Garth Huck, who sadly passed away of a brain tumour in 2004, the relay was resurrected in 2005. From 2005 up until January 2021, Blair Shunk was the president and leader of this organization.
Blair, along with the original founders, rallied together to reignite the race. The number of teams that can annually participate are now limited to a maximum of 60. Each team is allowed 15 members, totalling 900 active participants on the trail. On many levels, the 250-kilometer course will challenge a runners’ skillset of endurance during the relay.
“The relay is run in two segments. The North and South teams start on opposite ends of the trail during daylight and finish with a huge celebration at twilight. The terrain and elevation include either incline or decline, depending on which leg of the race you are assigned to run. You and your team are running throughout the mountains to Jasper for an incredible cause. The scenery is breathtaking and naturally stunning!” describes Chelsea.
“It is an awesome achievement to reach the goal. The finish line is the starting point; people in this race share their personal experiences, and moving forward, connect as a community! My story is only one of so many loved ones who have been impacted by a brain tumour,” she says.
Since its reignition in 2005, runners have raised over $500,000 for Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada. “That’s when the connection started. The reason for wanting to accomplish this feat wasn’t just a passion to start the race, but to have a great cause behind it!” states Chelsea proudly.
Chelsea has traveled to the US, Australia, and Europe. In her twenties, she moved to Calgary, Alberta from Ontario.
“I asked myself, why go to Switzerland to see the Alps when I have these majestic mountains right here in front of me to explore? We live near the mountains and are frequently venturing onto the trails in all seasons. We enjoy hiking, running, and skiing as much as we possibly can. We love the great outdoors, especially now with our baby. My husband Jamie and I are proud new parents. I had my baby girl, Sophie, two weeks before our virtual race last year. As soon as Sophie is at the age of 18 months, she will surely have skis strapped onto her feet. Spending time outdoors with family along with the beautiful view of the mountains are precious moments that will forever be cherished and remembered,” she says, along with a loving smile.
Chelsea Medcalfe works for TC Energy in Calgary, in management roles that have been on many levels of capacity. She has also been involved as a volunteer, fundraising runner, and the start line director for past Calgary Marathon events. Her employer generously supports the work and commitment that Chelsea undertakes within the company, the Banff-Jasper Relay, and Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada. TC Energy has a workforce giving program that supports and encourages their employees to give back to their communities in ways that resonate with them personally, through fundraising, donating, volunteering, and sometimes even matching donations raised by employees.
She was approached by Blair Shunk and asked if she would be interested in overseeing the project as President going forward? When the opportunity to take charge of the Banff-Jasper Relay Society arose, Chelsea felt compelled to lead the way and she is whole heartedly.
“I have led different teams and have had to jump into areas where I wasn’t familiar. I’ve never organized an entire race in the Rocky Mountains. I know how to run a project, I know how to run a team, so I am able to apply my experience and knowledge to run with it,” Chelsea confidently expresses.
In 2020, when the live race was cancelled due to the pandemic, Chelsea was nominated as President of the Banff-Jasper Relay Society. At the same time the race was shutting down; her dad’s diagnosis was occurring.
“I think it was meant for me to take over this race, and to keep raising awareness and funds for Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada community,” reflects Chelsea.
Her father was diagnosed with a Glioblastoma brain tumour. Chelsea recognizes that anyone affected with a brain tumour knows the journey can sometimes be an ongoing, difficult path. She and her family encountered a handbook published by Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada. This publication is provided to patients, caregivers, and loved ones.
“I was aware of Brain Tumour Foundation because of the Banff-Jasper relay connection. I searched their website and found the handbook online and began to realize how many resources they have to offer,” she says. The website hosts written stories, blogs, podcasts, and posts, to name a few avenues for support.
“Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada offers support in so many ways, but most of all they give hope! There’s such great information available to anyone on a journey due to brain tumours. For instance, I had heard it said that it’s okay to seek a second opinion if not comfortable with the first,” recalls Chelsea.
“That statement resonated with us, and led us initially from Windsor, Ontario hospital to Ottawa, Ontario hospital Ottawa Hospital Civic Campus, with a renowned neurosurgeon, Dr. John Sinclair, who specializes in removing brain tumours among other expertise.
Her father Frank has a glioblastoma on the temporal and frontal lobe of his brain, where many essential daily functions are controlled. His symptoms started with frequent seizures.
“Attempting to remove all the tumour could cause irreversible damage and dysfunction to my father. They would remove as much as they possibly could,” Chelsea remembers vividly.
Frank had his surgery in June of 2020. He was awake during the functional testing and the operation, performed by a skilled surgical team. They were very familiar and confident with that procedure. In less than a week, he was discharged from the hospital. The timing coincided with Father’s Day, and they were able to enjoy some rest and relaxation at an Airbnb in Ottawa, together.
“There have been no major long-term setbacks thus far. The week prior to his surgery our entire family ran in the virtual race alongside my father, sending him good vibes before his surgery. Throughout 2020 and 2021 the virtual races raised over $27,000. Unbelievable!” says Chelsea with utter amazement.
She describes her father as Mr. Positive, and an energy force, driving her to carry on the iconic race.
“Obviously, it’s a great surgery that he had, and there’s his positivity that keeps him going. My dad’s mentality and motto in life is to stay positive and always see the best in people. Everyone handles the diagnosis differently as they progress on the journey of many stages. He will not allow my stepmother Wendy, my sister Krystal, myself, or anyone else, to be negative. Dad will not let any one of us dwell on or think about a worst-case scenario. He says the power of positivity keeps us all strong to allow us to stay focused on what we can do. He’s doing well and with us today”.
There is no present cure for Chelsea’s father’s condition, and the tumour is still growing. Unfortunately, he is not a candidate for chemoradiation, having had previous radiation due to a different type of cancer many years ago. His condition is monitored every three months.
The doctors and family are shocked at the slow rate the tumour has grown since the diagnosis and the removal. However, there is a possibility of a future surgery. Chelsea describes the process as a “wait-and-see”.
She and her family are forever grateful to Dr. John Sinclair and the amazing medical team at Ottawa, Ontario hospital.
Chelsea is astounded at the resources, support, and hope that Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada provides in driving for a cure. She is also amazed at the courage it takes to openly reach out and share one’s story, as she has experienced within the brain tumour community. She speaks lovingly of a time when she informed the fundraising winner of the virtual race of her prize.
“I told her she won a well-deserved stay at The Lake Louise Inn.” says Chelsea. The woman replied tearfully, “What a day to find this out, as this is the anniversary of the day that I lost my mother to a brain tumour, and to get this news today is very special!”.
“I really hope that we will be able to have a live race this year because it would just be great to have that community together again in person. This year, we are planning to make that occur, fingers crossed!” hopes Chelsea.
Completing her MBA in January of 2021, Chelsea can combine her business background and lifestyle so that she can “lead the way in the hope that we can find a way to end brain tumours,” she advocates. One of her short-term goals of 2022 is to sell out the race. She and her team have set a monetary goal of $67,500 to raise for Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada this year. She hopes to far exceed that challenge!
The race is also completely volunteer run, including the directors and Chelsea, in her role as president. She is very proud of the 100% dedication and commitment that is a major contributor to the success of the Banff-Jasper relay.
“We all have jobs and responsibilities not related to the relay. In a not-for-profit organization such as the Banff-Jasper Relay Society, you are privileged to work with different people from various backgrounds. Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada offers strategies, support but most of all hope to help end brain tumours. That passion to drive forward, you know it can push you to stay on course to cross the goal line!” she proudly states.
The Banff Jasper Relay Society and Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada welcome everyone to participate in a relay in finding a cure to #endbraintumours. Race Day will take place on Saturday, June 4, 2022, followed by an epic party in Jasper! Celebrating personal accomplishments, awareness and remembering loved ones in our brain tumour community is the greatest achievement. There will be a dinner, an awards ceremony, and entertainment! All runners will receive a 2022 Banff Jasper Relay participant’s medal, following the presentation of 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place awards. Top fundraisers for this event will receive well-deserved accolades and prizes.
On behalf of Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada and the brain tumour community, Thank you, Chelsea Medcalfe!