After she meets with the Georgia Straight at a Lonsdale Avenue coffee shop, Sarah Jamieson is off on a 20-kilometre trail run in the North Shore mountains—while carrying a weighted backpack in the driving rain. It’s all part of her training to apply to the Vancouver police force. But for the movement coach and lifelong athlete, running is much more than an efficient form of exercise. It’s also her way of giving back.
Nearly a decade ago, the North Vancouver native made it her goal to raise $1 million for charity by the time she hit 35, a venture she’s dubbed Run for a Cause. Now 32, she’s raised almost $800,000, logging thousands of kilometres running at home and abroad to support organizations such as the Canadian Mental Health Association, the Vancouver Police Foundation, and Engineers Without Borders, among many others.
“I really believe in sports philanthropy, using health and wellness as a vehicle to raise awareness and funds for different causes you’re passionate about,” Jamieson says. “My focus is youth at risk—kids struggling with life challenges—as well as mental health and women’s economic empowerment, primarily in Africa.” (One reason Jamieson is dedicated to raising awareness of mental-health issues is because her mom, who had bipolar disorder, committed suicide three years ago.)
She’s currently running for CARE Canada’s Walk in Her Shoes campaign, which helps women and girls in developing countries access health care, education, and water and sanitation systems. Women in such nations are disproportionately affected by poverty, with many being responsible for walking several kilometres every day to collect water, firewood, and other necessities. Jamieson has made it a personal challenge to run six kilometres a day every day for a year, whether it’s snowing, sunny, or slick. The event wraps up on March 8, International Women’s Day.
“You can combine health and wellness and stay fit and healthy and teach kids to stay fit and healthy and give back to the community at the same time,” she adds. “It’s win-win.”
Jamieson was accepted into the police force in her early 20s but at the time decided to pursue personal training instead. She’s combined her experience working at facilities such as Studeo 55 and Innovative Fitness with her years spent teaching yoga to become a movement and performance coach.
Working as an independent contractor with Fit to Train Human Performance Systems, a consulting company specializing in physiotherapy, rehabilitation, and sport-conditioning services, Jamieson does functional movement screening (FMS). It’s a technique that identifies biomechanical dysfunctions, functional limitations, and asymmetries in the body, which can all increase the risk of injury and decrease functional effectiveness. Once those problems have been found, corrective exercises can be prescribed to build strength and restore mechanically sound movements.
Functional movement screening is used by many professional sports teams, including the Toronto Blue Jays, the Montreal Canadiens, the New York Jets, and the Green Bay Packers, as well as the U.S. military. It’s becoming more popular among fitness enthusiasts and health professionals alike. At its core is the belief in integrated care.
“With corrective management, we work with trainers and we work with coaches; we complement what they do,” Jamieson says. “It’s an integrative model. If you have issues with your spine, you see a chiropractor; if you have muscular issues, you see physiotherapist; if you have soft-tissue problems, you see a massage therapist. But a lot of people don’t know who’s appropriate to go to and when the right time is to do that. We help bridge that gap.
“More trainers are getting certified [in FMS] and using the tool,” she adds. “It allows them to have another pillar of health and wellness, another perspective of human movement.”
Jamieson works with everyone from seasoned athletes to people just trying to fit exercise into their busy lives, but her clients tend to have one thing in common: injuries.
“We will screen the client first and make sure they’re ready to train—fit to train—and if there are any biomechanical breakdowns, we do preparatory management. We create parameters around what coaches and trainers can do, and we do rehabilitation.
“We teach anatomy and physiology to our client so they understand what’s going on in their body. We usually don’t listen to the little nagging things going on in our body until there’s any injury—when there’s shoulder impingement or iliotibial-band syndrome or your back went out. Neurologically, our body tells us these things, but we need to listen to it, and we teach our clients how to do that.
“It looks a lot like a regular [personal training] session,” she adds, “but it’s a lot slower and a lot more technical.”
Jamieson says that injuries are especially common right around now, when people are putting fitness at the top of their list of New Year’s resolutions.
“People overload themselves after New Year’s, doing too much then being inconsistent with their workouts,” she notes. “There has to be a lifestyle change; it can’t be a temporary thing. Creating your goal and achieving your goal are great, but it’s about maintaining your goal.
“I like getting to know people’s goals and helping them make them happen, helping them improve their life,” she adds. “The reality is when you improve your health, you improve every other sphere in your life. It’s not just about feeling better or looking better but how that transfers to everything else. We’re living in a society where we sit most of the day, we’re very stressed out, and we have all these mobile devices. We need to take a step back and understand how the body works. The body feels so much better when it moves better.”
On those days when motivation is lacking, Jamieson says it helps to remind yourself of something you find inspiring.
For her, on those days when it’s windy, rainy, and dark and she has to run at least six kilometres, she looks at pictures she took on a trip to Sudan. She took a break from training between 2007 and 2009 to work in communications for a global company that had a corporate-responsibility program. While in the troubled African country, she worked at an orphanage for boys.
“One thing we gave boys for Christmas was flip-flops. They’d never had a pair of shoes. Being able to buy a new pair of running shoes every three months is a privilege when some people don’t have footwear or water that’s safe to drink. If I ever think, ‘Oh, I don’t feel like running today,’ I look at pictures of those boys who have had to endure insurmountable odds and are still positive and hopeful. Then it’s ‘Yeah, I can run six K.’
“It was beautiful and devastating at the same time,” she says of Sudan. “What was amazing is that when given any obstacle, the human spirit will prevail if given the opportunity.”