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Melanie Gainforth creates avenues for celebrating special moments

'The community is remarkable, generous, and kind'

“Rooted” is all about the people and places that make us proud to call our community home.

For 15 years Melanie Gainforth has been one of the more recognizable faces associated with the local CIBC Run for the Cure.

“When I first started working at the CIBC, they sponsored what was the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, now the Canadian Cancer Society CIBC Run for the Cure. So, I became a volunteer with them.”

Gainforth is the Logistics Director, which means making sure the event can take place, but she says it only happens because of the wonderful team of women she’s surrounded with that are also dedicated to the cause.

There were also two people in her life that were affected by breast cancer which inspired Gainforth to want to be involved.

“One of our staff members was diagnosed with breast cancer and unfortunately lost her battle. However, my grandmother was diagnosed when I was a teenager in the 1980s and it wasn’t spoken about. It just happened and she recovered and lived to be 99 and she’s my inspiration even though it wasn’t celebrated or discussed the way it is now,” she says.

“Women are better advocates for their own health, therefore these sorts of cancers are diagnosed earlier and taken care of in a much more effective way. Breast cancer is no longer a death sentence.”

Part of that awareness is the fact that the run continues to attract people in North Bay and the surrounding areas every single year in various ways and Gainforth says that was her goal early on, to be able to reach all aspects of the community and get people involved.

“When I stepped in my co-run director was Anne Marie Desjardins, and she and I knew that there was room to grow, that we could really engage more of the community. That’s when we started the Real Men Wear Pink game with the Nipissing Lakers,” says Gainforth.

“There was also Naden Boats from Temagami who donated a Pink Boat and that was entirely Andre Lamothe (President of Naden Boats) who took on the cause. He orchestrated the raffle and raised $36,000. It is those community partners that make us successful.”

Gainforth says it is not surprising to see this community come together for this event, “North Bay gets behind all the causes. We are surrounded by generous people. The event itself is an incredible celebration of community and of our support of each other. Not all of us have been touched by breast cancer specifically, but there is such a wide reach of breast cancer in Canada and in the community.”

Originally from the Bowmanville area, Gainforth followed her husband to North Bay when he came to the Gateway City for work in 1995. At a young age, Gainforth got involved in figure skating and eventually became a professional figure skating coach and started coaching in Astorville and Burk’s Falls. She also ran the Learn to Skate program in North Bay for a while and now is volunteering with local hockey teams.

“This past season I was working with the North Bay Trappers Peewee team, Matt Duquette’s club and they have been a lot of fun. Hockey coaches are realizing that smooth-skating is fast skating.”

Gainforth says it was through figure skating and teaching that skill that made her realize she wanted to be part of this community for the long haul.

“I took the education to become a professional coach before we moved to northern Ontario and so when we came to North Bay, while it was sort of something to fall back on, it really ended up being the job that I knew I already had when we came which made that transition and balance a little better. It was a big move to follow a boy up to northern Ontario, but that kept me from running away and North Bay quickly became home.”

Gainforth adds, “Our children were born and raised here, and we have no intention of moving back to southern Ontario. The community is remarkable, generous, and kind.”

The mother of two has also volunteered her time with local education by sitting on the Parent Advisory Council at Widdifield Secondary School for the last few years. 

“Even though we live in Callander, my kids chose to go to Widdifield because it was the culture and environment at that school that attracted them, even more so than the programs. They were welcomed with open arms and that atmosphere led me to volunteer with the parent council,” she said. 

“The last year with the transition to the closure, it became quite an important role to understand the politics and decision-making process of how it all happens,” she continues. “I think the students are getting the best possible outcome when they didn’t have a choice in the matter because a school had to close.”

Gainforth says it is very rewarding to be involved in your children’s education and what happens in schools in your local community. She says, “That group of parents was varied, lots of different backgrounds and reasons for being there. There really was a wide variety of people who were all engaged for the betterment of everyone’s kids. I think the Widdifield Parent Council was very dedicated to making the transition as easy as possible on both an emotional level and a historic level. There is so much past that is celebrated within the halls of any school and we wanted to make sure that they take that history with them and build on it in their new locations.”

Gainforth will now have to build upon the legacy that the CIBC Run for the Cure has created in this community as the 2020 event is going to look much different than any of the events in the past 15 years.

She says, “The run is virtual this year.”

“It will take place on Sunday, October 4 and it will be a whole different kind of event. So, we encourage you to register and raise your pledges, and having done so, you will be invited to participate in a virtual online event day. We’ll feature presentations from the Canadian Cancer Society and CIBC and there will be a survivor speaker and a warm-up and then participants are invited to go and walk through their own communities.”

Whether it was through the Run for the Cure, teaching figure skating, or the Parents Council, Gainforth has been able to find ways to bring people together and get them to celebrate an accomplishment. Celebrating as a survivor of cancer, celebrating a moment on the ice, or celebrating the history of Wildcat pride. And now even when we can’t get together in the hundreds at the Kiwanis Bandshell and walk along our beautiful waterfront, Gainforth is still finding a way to allow us to celebrate.

“We as a society have come a long way to be able to gather while still being apart.”

If you have a story suggestion for the “Rooted” series, send Matt an email at matthew.sookram@rci.rogers.com



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