By Donna Bishop
Kelly Kochut was working full time and was taking courses to be a personal trainer to have something to do when she retired. All that suddenly changed in July 2010 when on her way home from work she had an accident. She suffered brain trauma. She was diagnosed with a rare disorder called Foreign Accent Syndrome. This causes the person to speak with a different accent from their own. But this was only part of the problems that affected Kelly. Along with the ever-changing accents, she suffers from short-term memory loss, panics when in crowds, can’t count to ten, and has no concept of time. She can’t go anywhere by herself and in a way, is a prisoner to the community of Steveston where she resides.
As part of her therapy, she was to get involved with groups to address her fear of people. Two of the best things to happen to Kelly were her very best friend Sue Paul and the Steveston Community Centre. She joined the Friday morning Sun Run clinic in 2011 as a form of exercise only, not to enter the run itself. During this time, the Clinic Coordinator Donna Bishop asked her to help out the leaders with the large groups. The next year Donna asked her to be a full-fledged leader as she found Kelly to be a great motivator with the participants and they seemed to respond so well to her coaching. That year she ran the Sun Run with a group from the Friday clinic that took care of her in the crowd and made sure she got home safely.
Donna asked for Kelly to continue to be a run leader. Each year Kelly would add her way of motivation to those running with her. They would call her mama duck as she would circle them all to check that they were okay and keeping everyone together. Kelly wasn’t interested in improving her own time, but it was her goal that everyone met their goal and finished the run. She wanted the faster runners to improve and the weaker to finish.
Kelly’s generous and caring nature shows through when she sees that some of the runners do not have appropriate run gear. She has given away technical shirts, running pants, headbands and socks. She brings oranges to the clinics and bakes gluten-free goodies for the celiac participant. Kelly has since completed two Sun Run’s, two half marathons, and she’s the glue that holds the Steveston Community Centre Run Club together! The running groups and leadership perhaps extend the boundaries of her prison.
This story doesn’t have a happy ending for her. First, she never remembers the runs even shortly after they are completed. Second, Kelly has no emotions. She can’t feel happy or sad; it is just a void to her. She always says she can be a good actor and by reading other people will put on a smile or try to laugh to put others at ease.
When times get tough on a difficult run, you can hear Kelly growling; GRRRR followed by “Come on! Unleash that inner tiger!”