Being an avid runner for almost 30 years, how would I remember one of my slowest races? Despite the pain I endured during the 10K at the 2017 Ottawa Race Weekend, it will come down as one of my most memorable ones.

And it’s not just for the beautiful medal highlighting Canada’s 150th. My kids love it. I’ll remember this race for what I witnessed a few hours before crossing the line in the 10K run.

Earlier in the day, I was joined by a group of 13 newcomers to Canada, ranging from 18 to 74 years old, who were there to volunteer at the recovery area. That included three who were fasting on the first day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Their enthusiasm was magnetic and their smiles greeted more than 14,000 runners who ran 2K and 5K races earlier in the day. They distributed energy bars, bananas and bagels and felt extra encouraged when they heard the words thank you coming from the passing runners.

The whole idea was to connect newcomers to volunteer opportunities in Ottawa through the Catholic Centre for Immigrants’ Community Connections program.

After the group photo, I set out on my next challenge: the 10K. Very early into the race I realized it would be a challenge to finish in decent shape. But with such a supportive crowd along the course and my mind on the resilience of those Muslim volunteers, I kept going and made it to the finish line.

My slow pace helped me reflect on how an individual race could become a team effort. Yes, it’s my effort to finish the 10K, but it takes the collective work of volunteers and staff to support a race weekend attracting more than 43,000 runners.

And those 13 newcomers to Canada were an integral part of it. I was very fortunate to witness that. They may be new to our country, but they want to be part of it. Their contribution at the Ottawa Race Weekend was a testament to that.

Seeing new and established Canadians coming together for this festive event, it’s the confirmation of how fortunate I am to call Canada home as the country celebrates its 150th birthday.

And the story does not end there. Some of our newcomers are looking forward to volunteering this weekend at Doors Open Ottawa and throughout the spring and summer.

I am confident they will do well in Ottawa and continue to inspire others to embrace Canada as they have.

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Javier Clavelo Robinson is a member of the Community Connections team at the Catholic Centre for Immigrants