Lauren Small: 21.1 KM from the finish line

Lauren Small-Pennefather’s road to the 20th Maccabiah Games began 25 years ago.

At the age of 21, Lauren made her first trip to Israel. Despite being in awe of the country and meeting a large part of her family for the first time, constantly on her mind was her mother in Montreal, who was slowly losing her battle with cancer.

“We went to the Kotel to pray for her. She was quite ill, but we prayed that she would get better. It was an emotional journey and it was very important for me [to go then],” she recalled. “My connection to Israel has always been strong: it’s physical, emotional and spiritual.”

Lauren would lose her mother two months after returning home. For any young adult, dealing with such a tragedy could take a drastic toll on one’s psyche; yet, Lauren channeled her emotions for the better, towards a mission of helping others.

For the past 17 years, Lauren has dedicated much of her spare time to the Terry Fox Foundation. Her commitment only intensified since losing her father to cancer as well, but her goal to find hope in tragedy not only aids in her healing process, but has also served as an inspiration for her daughter, Avah.

“It’s discussed a lot in our home; we tell Avah how we must turn negative experiences into positives. I survive by sharing my story with others and inspire others to get involved in organizations like Terry Fox.”

Inspiration is the operative word. Despite only being in Grade 3, Avah has grabbed the proverbial baton from her mother, ensuring that everyone in Montreal West and at Edinburgh Elementary School are well aware of Terry Fox and the foundation that bears his name.

Yet, while adversity has unfortunately been a theme in the Small-Pennefather household, the State of Israel has always been a beacon of hope, with the Maccabiah movement a central focus of the family.

As such, in searching for a way to honour her mother, twenty-five years since her passing, Lauren set her sights on the 20th Maccabiah Games and one of its premiere events: the Jerusalem Half Marathon.

“Every time I go to Israel, I feel that I’m being reconnected with my homeland,” said Lauren. “It makes you realize how important it is for Jews to have a country where you’re accepted and how important it is to honour your heritage. Israel shows how lucky we are and I’m excited to share that feeling with my family.”

As a representative of the Canadian Space Agency, Lauren has visited to Israel multiple times since her first trip in 1992, while her husband, Jeff, coached Canada to a Bronze medal in Water Polo at the 2005 Maccabiah Games. This summer will mark their first trip to Israel as a family.

With the race on on the horizon, Lauren admits that her training has not been easy, but as an example to Avah, she has persevered.

“I want to get better and give myself more challenges. I believe that we should not become complacent in life, I want my daughter to see that it doesn’t matter how old you are and despite what you’ve accomplished to date, you should want to do more.”

Watching her mother’s journey, Avah herself has become both an avid diver and runner. While diving is not currently contested at the Games, it could very well be eight years from now, when she’ll be eligible to participate as a Junior athlete.

“I’ve been training for three years. I said to myself that if running the Half [Marathon] is the way I have to get to the Maccabiah Games, then that’s how I have to get there. It’s a special journey, I am excited to represent Canada and I am excited to compete. It doesn’t get much better than that.”

After a quarter-century of waiting, there’s only 21.1 kilometers separating Lauren and her finish line.