It has been over 10 years since I lost my father to heart disease. 10 years since my life was forever changed. We lost him suddenly to a heart attack one night in October 2007. I spoke to him just the day before. Had I known it would have been our last conversation, there are many things I would have said. I would have told him I loved him. I would have asked him if he knew that my goal as a little girl was always to make him proud. I would have asked his forgiveness for the times there was strain in our relationship. I would have reminded him of how very much like him I am. When I look in the mirror, I often see him looking back at me. When I have a big decision to make, I often ask myself, “What would Dad do?” Dad called me his “carbon copy”. And I know I still am.
Losing Dad to heart disease was a time for me to take a hard honest look at myself. I needed to grieve, but I also needed to see this as a reminder or even, an opportunity, to make some changes in my own life. At the time we lost Dad, I weighed about 285lbs. I had been in blissful ignorance of how this was damaging to my health. I certainly knew that obesity was not healthy, but I never fully acknowledged that I needed to change. I would diet, lose a few pounds, get discouraged, fall off the wagon. Losing Dad young made me look at my own mortality honestly. I was finally ready to have an honest chat with my doctor. “Am I at risk for heart disease?” I asked. I had to accept the fact that if I didn’t change, I could die young too, just like him. And so I began my journey to become heart healthy for Dad.
My Journey To Living a Heart Healthy Life
What began as a simple journey to improve my health turned into a life-changing 180 degree lifestyle change. I took small steps like practicing proper portion control and going for long walks and swims. I didn’t buy a diet plan or hire a trainer, I did it myself, on my own terms. Dad was my motivation and my driving force. I simply did my homework to learn how to do it right. I started to go to the pool at least 3 times a week and swim a mile. I went so frequently the pool staff all knew me and offered me encouragement. When I needed to add some variety into my routine, I took on a new challenge – running. Running was the sport I always wanted to enjoy, but it was the sport I never could do. It requires strong legs and an even stronger heart. Talk about the ultimate heart health challenge!
In 2011, I finally reached the healthy weight that was ideal for my body. But my running journey only just began. Little did I know that this sport would soon become my biggest passion and obsession. I set the goal to run a half marathon that year and launched my blog, Run With Zahida. I not only completed this race, but I went on to complete 3 full marathons, 30+ half marathons (I have lost count), and countless races of other distances. I am a race ambassador, running coach, run crew member, and certified personal trainer.
In 2017, my husband and I were given the best gift in the world, a healthy baby daughter born in October. Given my father was born in October and we also lost him in October, we decided to name our girl after him so she can grow up knowing her grandfather. Along with her namesake, I wish to pass the lessons he taught me onto her. This includes ensuring she puts her own heart health at a high priority. I plan to do active things with her and expose her to sports so she can find a passion of her own. I will also continue to prioritize being active for myself as an example for her to witness. I began this mindset in my pregnancy and ran right up until I was 37 weeks along, including a 10K race at 35 weeks. I can’t wait for our very first run together someday, as soon as her little legs are strong enough!
Fraser Health put out a South Asian Health Report in 2016 which stated that heart disease among South Asians is 2 times higher than among non-South Asians. According to CBC.ca, the mortality rate from coronary artery disease is 42% for South Asian men compared to 29% for white men. I know there are many other community members like me who have either lost someone to heart disease or suffer from it themselves. I encourage people to seek professional support in becoming heart healthy and most importantly, to work toward prevention of this disease that takes us from loved ones too soon.