You Just Might Surprise Yourself - The Story of Starlene Keno

By Elyce Pereira

Starlene Keno, from St. Theresa Point First Nation, had never formally ran any track and field events, but she was selected 2 months before the 2017 North American Indigenous Games (NAIG) to compete in 5 running events. With such little time to get ready, she trained by marathon running at her community Bannock Festival, where she won first place. She also participated and won first place in the local Iron Maiden event, where the participants canoe, run, and swim. She ended up doing an incredible job at the 2017 NAIG in Toronto, Ontario.

Starlene's life changed on July 23, 2017, days after returning home from Toronto. She was playing in a volleyball classic that day. She was a passenger on her friend's quad when she was hit from behind by a vehicle. In critical condition, she was flown to Winnipeg for emergency surgery. Sharlene suffered from head trauma, blood loss, and swelling of the brain. Her family was told to have very low expectations for Starlene's recovery.

As Starlene was on the table, her volleyball team was in Winnipeg praying for her on the court as they were playing their final game. Thankfully, the surgery was successful. The doctors had to remove part of her skull to allow room for the swelling and as a result, Starlene had to wear a helmet for an entire year to help with the healing. It wasn't an easy year. She had to learn to walk again and had to work hard to get strength and movement back into her hands. Looking back, without knowing whether or not she would ever regain all of her functions, she confessed that this was the lowest part of her life.

Starlene missed a lot of school that year as it was extremely difficult for her to focus in class. For a 15 year old to experience brain trauma to the extent that she did, it was important for her to concentrate on healing physically and mentally. Throughout this process, Starlene had a lot of thoughts of "why me" and struggled with thoughts of suicide leading into 2019. She has always been an active child and participated in multiple sports growing up. "Sports have always helped me cope with life, given me space to keep things off of my mind, and motivate others and myself throughout the process". Without this outlet for Starlene to help cope, going through something this intense was increasingly hard for her and her family.

By 2019, she slowly started participating in some sports again, but wasn't quite ready to be fully active yet. That summer, the day before the Team Manitoba track and field tryouts for the 2020 NAIG, it all changed for her when an opportunity came knocking at Starlene's door, literally. Mike Taylor, the coach, showed up at her house to tell her there was a spot open for her at tryouts and that they were leaving for Winnipeg at 8pm that evening.

When she first arrived at the tryouts, she thought to herself "I can't do this. I'm too slow". Then, as she started to run, she remembered the thing that she liked most about running track, something that Mike had told her in the past: "It's not about being fast now. It's about gaining speed over time, so it's okay to be slow".

Starlene made team Manitoba; completely surprising herself. Making it onto the team gave her this new level of confidence. In the following months she ran in her community Bannock Festival and Iron Maiden events, where she finished fifth and first place.

Starlene's story is the perfect example of resilience and strength. Although she doubted herself at times, she knew that if she gave herself the chance, she would continue to surprise herself by what she could accomplish. A piece of advice that Starlene has for other Indigenous athletes is to "never give up. You just might surprise yourself [by what you can do]. I'm still slow, but I'm still going".

 


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