Leanne Gislason: Today is Not the Day

There is nothing more heroic than looking your worst nightmare in the face and deciding that today will not be the day that you give up. – Leanne Gislason

As a child, Leanne Gislason knew a thing or two about not giving up.  Leanne was born with malformed hips and a hearing impairment.  Growing up, she wore braces on her legs, and she could hardly walk, much less run.  She never played sports, and in fact avoided them, preferring isolation over not being able to perform simple athletic tasks that other kids could.  While it was painful, Leanne looks back with humour at what she calls her “awkward” childhood.  Leanne says, “I was that kid that made the others cringe when the teacher forced them to let me play.”

The one thing that Leanne could do as a child was ride a bike.  She recalls with vivid description the sights and smells of riding through the Prairies slaying imaginary dragons while she did.  On her bike was the only place she felt a sense of freedom.  She was graceful on the bike, rather than awkward, clumsy, and in pain.  In these moments, a distance cyclist was born.

As an adult, difficult emotional times led Leanne to need a greater outlet than cycling could give.  Though running was extremely difficult for her, she managed to complete a Couch to 5K program.  While running was painful for Leanne, the finite measurement of running a certain distance helped her escape the pressures of grad school and motherhood.  Leanne grew to tolerate running, eventually completing her first half marathon in 2011.


In 2015, Leanne found herself going through a difficult personal evolution.  While her well-meaning friends offered her kindness and sympathy, she began to resent the story that emerged about herself – she who should be pitied.  This didn’t fit with her personality and who she wanted to be, so she decided to make a change.  Leanne’s first thought was that she would challenge herself with an Ironman.  However, she dialed this goal back to a 70.3, as she hadn’t ever run a full marathon and didn’t even know how to swim.  Leanne joined TriStars because of the encouragement that was given by Coach Lindsey.

The awkward child inside once again emerged as Leanne stood on the pool deck to take her first swimming lesson.  However, she found herself capable with the help of coaches and teammates.  She met people who “practically vibrated with wellness and positivity,” as she says.  “It wasn’t hard to fall in step with them.”

Leanne found her first race day a satisfying event.  Crossing the finish line of the 2016 Victoria 70.3, she was surrounded by friends, coaches, teammates, and family, all there in support.  While it was the most difficult physical accomplishment of her life, the feeling she got crossing the finish line was one of pure joy.  She couldn’t wait to race again.  In 2017, Leanne completed four triathlons – two Olympic and two 70.3.

Leanne still has pain when she runs, and she still runs awkwardly at times.  However, she has a team of physiotherapists, massage therapists, and yoga instructors that keep her body aligned and her mind open to acceptance.  She does whatever she can do each day.

Professionally, Leanne has been a social worker for over ten years.  She teaches at UVic and supports clients through Island Health in Victoria.  She says about her job:

The nature of my job means that I’ve met people who are living their worst nightmare moments, and the pain and shock of what that reality feels like is unimaginable to me. Also unimaginable is the strength that I see them quickly develop, no matter the circumstance. There is a moment that can be witnessed as people come to terms with what has happened, and make some kind of decision not to give up. There is a little shift of energy that healers and helpers can see, if they look closely. The courage and bravery that little shift takes is so moving, and inspiring. When my races (or my personal life) get difficult, I don’t have to think long or hard to recall a moment with someone who was able to demonstrate courage despite unimaginable pain, and I try to channel that energy. There is nothing more heroic than looking your worst nightmare in the face and deciding that today will not be the day that you give up. The indomitable drive that our species has to sustain itself against all odds, and the way that endurance athletes play with that feeling by testing our bodies to the limit, motivates me so much. - Leanne Gislason

Leanne translates this motivation from the office to endurance sports.  She enjoys being able to flirt with the edge of her abilities in a way that is safe and measured, yet accomplishing more than she thought possible.  She has learned a lot about herself through endurance sports, and she is mindful that the moments that test her are the moments that teach her.

Leanne still feels from time to time like she can’t shake that “inner awkward child” of her youth.  She cites times where her goggles were too tight yet leaky, where she vomited on herself from poor nutrition, or where she accidentally went to a bar in a trisuit.  She says she doesn’t have the “orchestrated perfection” that other triathletes have.  However, Leanne is accomplishing tremendous things, orchestrated perfection or not.  That awkward inner child just might take her all the way to the Ironman finish line.

We can’t wait to see you race in the future, Leanne.  Thanks for being such a terrific and inspirational TriStars member!