When Jessica Kowalson heard that someone in the St.Amant community wanted her to join their triathlon team, she was hesitant. Kowalson, who lives in a community residential home managed by St.Amant, uses a wheelchair for mobility and remembers her initial concerns. “Two years ago, my team leader said a man named Craig was looking for someone to train with him and I said OK, but I wondered how I would manage to do everything. I finally figured out that I could just do the run portion of the triathlon with him, and that would work alright.”
Craig Murray is a lawyer with a penchant for storytelling who loves to crack a joke. He’s also a member of Team goBert, a group of amateur triathletes who train together and participate in races around the Winnipeg region. Kowalson is a young woman who not only puts up with Murray’s teasing, but dishes as good as she gets. After completing the interview for this article, Kowalson asked her direct support professional, Brynne Cayer, “Who gets more off track with their stories, me or Craig?”
Murray had already begun training for the triathlon in 2021 when he felt a calling. “This started as something us guys were doing to stay fit and have some jocularity during the COVID restrictions,” he shares. “But the Holy Spirit reached into my heart and told me: Craig, you’re not so special doing this all by yourself. You should be doing this with somebody else. You can do more.”
As Chair of the St.Amant Foundation board and member of the St.Amant board, he was able to contact the organisation to see if there was anyone receiving supports who might be interested in participating, and next thing he knew, he was meeting Kowalson at her residence in Transcona. Shortly after, they began training together.
“I was so impressed with Jessica’s light heartedness,” Murray remembers. “I would say to her, ‘Hey, you don’t look so comfortable right now, can I help you in your chair?’ and she would respond, ‘I’m good enough! Let’s go!’ Jessica doesn’t complain, and I love that about her.”
The triathlon, which they have competed in three times since 2021, was just the beginning of their friendship. “As of October 2022, my friend Jessica became my colleague Jessica, as she joined the St.Amant Board of Directors,” explains Murray. Kowalson admits that there’s a lot to learn as a board member, but she’s enjoying the experience.
The friendship and connection shared between Murray and Kowalson has extended beyond the duo. Members of Team goBert stop by Kowalson’s home to decorate the yard for Halloween and Christmas, and Murray’s dog Elly loves the homemade dog treats that Kowalson makes (and sells, even to her friend Craig).
Despite all the banter and the teasing, the affection and admiration between Kowalson and Murray is palpable. “One could look at Jessica and say that she might have something to complain about, but she has a wonderful view on life,” says Murray. “Ditto!” calls out Kowalson, as Murray continues, “She was a resident at St.Amant’s River Road Place for many years, and she self-advocated to be able to move into her home here in Transcona so she could be more included in her community and improve her quality of life. I am continuously impressed by her and enjoy our time together so much.”
Kowalson’s trademark megawatt smile confirms that she’s pretty happy with the way things have turned out, too.
If you’d like to learn more about ways you can get involved and meet a new friend from St.Amant, Actionmarguerite, Villa Aulneau or Résidence Despins, please click here.