faces of wellness
Lauren Kennedy West
Grand prize winner
Lauren Kennedy West is the grand prize winner of our second annual Faces of Wellness program to recognize Albertans who are everyday champions for wellness in their own lives, workplaces and communities.
Lauren is an Edmonton mother of three who embodies what it means to live well with schizophrenia. Lauren not only works hard to practice wellness in her own life and the lives of her family but is inspiring others around the world through her YouTube channel called 'Living Well with Schizophrenia' where she shares her experiences living with and navigating her illness. The channel has over 175,000 subscribers and her videos have over 16 million views. She provides a safe space for countless people who would otherwise feel alone in their experience of schizophrenia and exemplifies what it means to live well with her illness. Lauren also runs an online peer support community for those living with schizophrenia spectrum illnesses, is a fierce advocate for mental health care reform and has become a prominent voice in the mental health advocacy community.
Beyond her advocacy work, Lauren works hard every day on her own wellness, managing her schizoaffective disorder largely through medication, but also therapy, sleep, nutrition and exercise. She is an avid runner and has run multiple ultra marathons as a component of her wellness journey.
Lauren was awarded an all-expense-paid weekend wellness experience in Banff for her inspiring story.
His traditional name is Wapi Kihew Napew, but he was born and raised Blake Jackman. Having survived childhood abuse and trauma, he faced addictions until his early 30s when, after losing almost everything, he found the strength to make a change. He’s now 10 years in recovery and for the past 5 years, Blake has worked in permanent supportive housing—serving individuals who suffer from generational trauma, addictions and complex mental health.
Blake currently works as a program manager for NiGiNan housing Ventures and as a site manager for the bridge housing site named Pimatisiwin. In these roles, he has been able to bridge relationships with many inner-city agencies including Spadey, Boyle Street, e4c, Alberta Health Services, Homeward Trust, Jasper Place Wellness, YMCA and many others.
Blake and his partner ensure their three children have activities and are participating in community whenever possible. They follow the traditional Nehyaw ceremonies and their children are learning traditional teachings, language and medicine.
Sandra McFadyen believes wellness is composed of a number of facets:
- The physical—she visits the Southeast Edmonton Seniors' Centre fitness centre three times a week to use their circuit training equipment and on the other days of the week, she tries to reach a minimum of 10,000 steps a day.
“I hike all over parts of the city, both green spaces and paved,” says Sandra. “It's amazing what you discover each time you go out, even on paths you've been before. The changes in season bring something new to see each day.”
- The mental—Sandra keeps her brain active with various types of challenges such as learning Spanish and completing crossword puzzles and other word games. One of the most mentally challenging things for Sandra is sitting on the executive team of four different non-profit organizations. She’s the chair for WECAN Food Basket Society of Alberta, she is the vice-president for the Southeast Edmonton Seniors' Association, she sits on the board of ElderCare Edmonton and she also sits on her condominium board.
- The spiritual—Sandra finds deep calm, meaning and peace when being in nature. “It reminds me of the presence of a much larger being and that I am but one piece of a very large vista.” She serves as a death doula for those individuals who would like comfort and companionship as they follow their final journey.
- The social—as a self-proclaimed introvert, Sandra understands there’s value in gathering with people, both whom we know and those we don't to learn from them, listen to their stories and gain new understanding and appreciation of issues, events and situations.
“I try to intentionally insert social gatherings into my calendar so that I make sure I have that opportunity to show empathy, caring and compassion.”
Michael Bicknell has battled depression and addiction his entire life. He was 13 years old when his father was incarcerated and his mom struggled to raise him on her own. Michael was 14 when began drinking, then tried cocaine and it was a slippery slope after that.
He experienced many other traumatic events, including losing friends to overdoses, and he has struggled with suicide for most of his life. In 2015, he attempted to take his own life and was hospitalized and treated for depression.
After the birth of his son, he decided to turn his life around, get clean and choose life. He’s now been sober for 6 years.
“I chose life and I want to help others choose life every day,” explains Michael. “Helping my community with their mental health struggles has become a huge part of my life. Most people just want someone to listen to.”
Michael is now the volunteer mental health ambassador at his workplace and advocating for mental health is very important to him. He believes that sharing his struggles with addiction and mental health can help others.
Irene Crowchild is a Akīyīī Màk’ōdzà Dīnà (Two Spirit Person) Dene from Tsuut’ina Nation. She is a 2-time national long drive golf champion and her journey has been marked by adversity, triumph, and determination.
Irene is an intergenerational survivor of Canada's residential school system and a role model who is using her success to drive reconciliation forward. Her journey has included overcoming more than 6 years of addiction and supporting her community as an addictions case worker in her community, Tsuut’ina Nation.
Irene worked at Buffalo Run Golf Course from a young age, but it wasn’t until she was 16 that she swung a golf club for the first time. The skill surprisingly didn’t come easily for this natural athlete, but she soon realized this was because she should have been using left-handed clubs.
After being sober for a year and a half, Irene won her first title at the Canadian National Long-Drive Championship in 2018. She put in tireless work, teaching and training herself while working full time to achieve this accomplishment.
Because she was the only health and safety officer in her community of Tsuut’ina, Irene was placed on the Emergency Management Team during the first 8 months of the COVID-19 pandemic. This was on top of training at the range and attending school full time. But all her hard work paid off when she won her second National Long-Drive title in 2020.
Deb Hymers is the founder of NSTEP (Nutrition Students Teachers Exercising with Parents), a not-for-profit registered charity based in Alberta providing hands-on nutrition and physical activity programs directly into classrooms, community centers and afterschool programming. NSTEPs mission is to educate and motivate children to eat better, walk more and live longer; and its programs work directly with children and youth in both school and community settings to inspire teachers, students and parents to make small simple changes for lifelong health benefits.
The program has provided support to more than 50,000 children and youth since its inception. Deb is a tireless champion for children’s wellness and also has a strong commitment to promoting health equity and working specifically with schools in socioeconomically disadvantaged communities across Alberta.
When Tyson was 19 years old he was diagnosed with cancer and required multiple surgeries and an extensive period of chemotherapy. Chemotherapy left him with severe damage to his lungs and extensive neuropathy and after finding this out, Tyson started running in hopes of offsetting this damage.
It was after losing both his grandmother and uncle to cancer, and as a survivor himself, that Tyson decided to raise money for cancer research. In 2019 he ran across Alberta and raised more than $20,000 for the Terry Fox foundation. To this day, Tyson has continued running, his lungs have built capacity to be above average for his age and he just recently qualified for the Boston Marathon, running a sub 3-hour marathon.
Tyson continues to help inspire others to begin healthy habits and prioritize what is important in life.
Dr. Marie Holowaychuk
When Dr. Marie Holowaychuk was thriving as a veterinarian, public speaker and educator, her chronic stress was taking a toll on both her body and mind. She was beginning to experience burnout from her busy life working locally and travelling as a small animal and critical care specialist.
That all changed in 2014 when Marie was in car accident that served as a wake-up call to slow down. Not only did she have to put work on hold for several weeks while she recovered, she also recognized that she needed to make changes in her life that would allow her to balance the work she loved with the life she wanted to live.
Marie began to prioritize her mental and physical health. She sought counselling and worked with her physician and naturopathic doctor to address some of the causes and consequences of her chronic stress and overwhelm. She also did an 8-week mindfulness-based stress reduction program, became a certified yoga teacher and completed a meditation teacher program.
After recognizing the prevalence of compassion fatigue, burnout, suicide, mental health stigma and other issues within veterinary medicine were not being spoken about enough, Marie decided to share the lessons she had learned through her website, marieholowaychuk.com where she provides free resources on the topics of mental health, burnout, setting boundaries and more. She also shares information on her biweekly Reviving Vet Med podcast and with social media posts on several platforms.
After a life of trauma, homelessness and addiction and the murder of his partner when they were homeless, Earl Thiessen made the decision to get help. After being arrested with 11 warrants, he told the Justice of the Peace that he wanted and needed help.
“He [Justice of the Peace] took a chance and released me,” explains Earl. “I walked up to medical detox on November 13, 2007, and have been clean, sober and on my healing journey ever since.”
Earl reconnected with his Indigenous culture while in residential treatment, which helped with his healing. After treatment, Earl moved into an Oxford Home whose mission is to provide people in recovery from addictions, a supportive program and safe home to achieve a productive, rewarding, clean sober life. After the founder of Oxford House witnessed the change Earl made in the Oxford Home, he offered Earl a position as a support worker.
10 years later, after climbing through multiple positions at The Oxford House Foundation of Canada, Earl is the new executive director and one of the biggest advocates for mental health, addiction, homelessness and Indigenous healing in Alberta.
“What I do for a living is not work, it’s a gift and I love and appreciate all of those struggling and all of those working to make other peoples lives better.”
At age 9, Sydney Hampshire had an ischemic stroke that left her completely paralyzed on her left side. The doctors told her parents that she might never walk or speak again.
“I remember waking up after my stroke, being told what had happened and breaking down,” says Sydney. “I could not understand why this had happened to me.”
For Sydney the only choice was to get better. And with some creative modifications, she’s able to do whatever she puts her mind to including snowboarding, cross-country skiing, biking, hiking, camping and canoeing. She also helps empower others to get outside through the University of Alberta's outdoors club. “Heck, if I can climb a mountain, so can you.”
Every facet of Sydney’s life has been impacted by her stroke, from enduring frequent Botox injections to ensuring she’s able to remain physically active through physiotherapy and daily workouts.
Sydney used her experiences as a child to obtain a masters of rehabilitation sciences. She also co-founded Click&Push Accessibility Inc. and created an app called The Atlas which people with mobility limitations can use to ensure they do not encounter barriers that impede access, increase the risk of injury and deplete energy reserves.
“I always encourage others to work towards the life they want for themselves, regardless of the hand they have been dealt, and continuously strive to uplift others.”