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Meet the Runner : Harmony Satori
July 29, 2016 / By Eleanor Boyle, contributing writer
Two years ago, teenager Harmony Satori was aimless, skipping school, doing drugs, and having trouble imagining a positive future for herself. Then she found herself beginning her Grade 10 year at Streetfront, an alternative program at Britannia High School in Vancouver, that helps young people build skills and confidence through physical activities.
Today, at 16, Harmony has run two half-marathons, is a straight-A student, and feels like a different person. “I really went low for the first two years of high school,” she said in an interview. “Some people still judge me on that. But it’s not who I am anymore.”
The story of Harmony is about a personal journey but it’s also about Streetfront, an ambitious alternative high school program. Headed by a team including teacher Trevor Stokes, Streetfront gives students regular academic courses but also an intensified physical education curriculum including camping, hiking, and high-endurance experiences like running marathons and climbing mountains. For Harmony, these difficult tasks have been a route to restored self-esteem and to seeing herself as an accomplished person.
Born in Vancouver as Harmony Patterson, though she uses her middle name Satori, she experienced frequent disruptions to the family and moved several times to different communities and new high schools. Gradually Harmony started skipping classes and hanging out with other troubled, at-risk kids. In the summer of 2015, at the concerned insistence of her mother Andi and step-parent Dani, Harmony attended a recovery-based day treatment program for youth run by Watari, which Harmony reflects on as an experience that helped her envision her potential.
But when it came to attending Streetfront, the teenager objected. “I was reluctant and resistant to going at first. I was upset that it wasn’t my choice.” As well, she didn’t like running. She was not athletically-oriented, and had never played sports.
But after a short time at Streetfront, she found regular running calming as well as strengthening “both physically and mentally.” At Streetfront, she and other students ran three times a week, for almost an hour but each at their own pace. Her first runs were 3 km, progressing into 5 km, 7 km, 10 km, then her first ‘Deep Cove Run’ of 18 km. Now after one year at Streetfront, she credits it for achievements she otherwise would never have attempted. Like her first half-marathon, the BMO event on May 1, 2016, when she ran even faster than expected, then another half-marathon on June 30.
Then there are the mountains. Streetfront created a program called Street2Peak, taking inner city youth internationally to climb mountains. Training recently for a 2017 trip to Patagonia, Chile, Harmony at least once told herself that she couldn’t finish and didn’t want to do this anymore. But she found a way to finish the training hike, and says she’s glad.
Harmony has learned to show up and try something out even if she’s not sure she’ll ‘like’ it. “It’s good,” she observes, “because I end up in a lot of activities that I never would otherwise. And sometimes you realize you enjoy them. It’s inspiring.”
“Doing these things is stressful. But when you finish, you’ve accomplished it. And you carry that with you. Twenty years from now I’ll be saying ‘I ran a marathon!’”
Next year Harmony will attend Total Education for Grade 11, since Streetfront is for grades 8 – 10 only. She plans to “stay connected with Streetfront my entire life.” This coming November she’ll join them in another half marathon in Seattle, then plans to run her first full marathon next spring in Vancouver.
But she doesn’t think she’ll be running forever. Harmony has other passions including for art, especially drawing, and hopes to attend Emily Carr to study art and design. In other areas of life, she has recently earned her Learner’s permit to drive. She has a job at Cineplex in International Village, will also work at the PNE this summer, and is proud that she is earning and saving money. “My life is really going forward.”
She calls Trevor Stokes “probably the best teacher I’ve ever had. He’s a really amazing person” who runs with the kids, talks with them, and really gets to know them. She also credits additional staff members Gord Howey and Barry Skillin for their expertise and support. “I’m so glad I got to spend even a year at Streetfront. It’s changed my life.”
Harmony wants people to know that anyone can do the things she does if they put their minds to it. “Even if someone has told you that you can’t do something, you can. People are scared or embarrassed to ask for help. I was too. But if you push yourself, you can do anything.”