The COVID-19 pandemic has been stressful and scary for all of us, but has been uniquely challenging for frontline healthcare workers. Joy Kramarich is a runner with the University of Toronto Track and Field Club (UTTC) Masters Division and a trauma nurse at the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto. She spoke with us about her experience working on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic and what running has meant to her during this difficult year.
Not surprisingly, work for the 60-year-old Oakville resident has been demanding, challenging and marked with ambiguity since the pandemic began. Her hours have been long, working 12-hour shifts with minimal breaks, and she and many of her colleagues have been working double shifts and overtime in order to provide ongoing care to the high volume of patients who are coming through their doors.
For many people, working conditions like these would be an understandable reason to allow their running regime to fall by the wayside, but not for Kramarich. Her mileage has actually increased throughout the pandemic, and there have been many weeks where she’s run a solid 110 kilometres, despite working 60 hours or more.
“COVID and the government-mandated restrictions related to COVID has given me
tremendous focus with respect to my running,” she says. “The hours of the day have been relegated to work and running, since that was all there was and often still is.”
Kramarich has been running since elementary school, she has appreciated the ability to run even more throughout the pandemic, as it allows her to get outside and move, be alone with her thoughts and decompress from the stress of work. She explains that running has provided encouragement when it feels like life is so dismal for so many, and provides her with the motivation to carry on.
Running has also been a source of gratitude for Kramarich, reminding her how lucky she is to be alive, that she can move and breathe and that she and her family are safe and healthy at a time so many people have lost so much.
“There are no races on the road or the track, no requirement to run a certain distance in a certain time. It has simply been about the ability to run, which I love and which I do every day, even on the days that I work.”
Kramarich emphasizes that while she is a runner, that is only a small part of who she is. She is a mother, a coach, a teacher and a nurse, and her goal is to make a difference in the lives of all of her patients and her families. The exceedingly high demands on the healthcare system over this last year, however, have made it increasingly difficult for her and her colleagues to provide the same level of care that they ordinarily could. She also recognizes that this has been a difficult time for everyone, not just healthcare workers, but stresses the importance of following the government guidelines and initiatives to help minimize the spread of the virus, pointing out that even runners who are healthy are not immune.
The hope, of course, is that we will soon be able to get back to training in groups and racing again. For Kramarich, that means getting back to training with her masters group at U of T.
“Now that I am a Masters athlete and at this time in my life, I am cognizant of the fact that running is now a leisure activity, something that I am able to do in my free time,” she explains. “I think it is fantastic that we can still run and participate in running events and track meets. It enables me to supplement my daily life with a much loved and easily accessible physical activity.”