Robert Roy-Boudreau attributes training for a marathon with helping him to quit smoking, with the end result being the ability to fully live and celebrate life. His race began over a year ago and he’s been sharing his story ever since in order to encourage smokers and ex-smokers to live tobacco-free.

Genuine, friendly and outgoing, this school principal (La Ruche School in Tracadie-Sheila) has been inspiring his teaching colleagues as well as parents with his enthusiasm for living life as a non-smoker. It’s impossible to hear Robert talk about his journey without feeling inspired to take action and start achieving one of your own health and fitness goals!

Robert started smoking at 14 years of age and says he tried many times to quit during the 30 years that followed. But as is the case for many smokers who struggle with their addiction to nicotine, the story kept repeating itself: despite his willingness and desire to quit, he’d start smoking cigarettes again far too quickly, often after only a few days of making the decision to quit.

“I finally realized that in order to quit smoking once and for all, I had to set up a bigger goal for myself,” says Robert. “In the past, I thought that I could just stop whenever I wanted, simply with my desire to quit! But this was not enough. I needed a bigger objective, something that had nothing to do with smoking, to really motivate me.”

He adds: “You know, sooner or later, every smoker quits. Either he/she becomes ill from smoking or dies. Everyone dies one day, but it’s even worse if a bad habit like smoking ends your life earlier. It’s either that, or the smoker makes the personal choice to quit smoking before he/she gets to that point.”

For Robert, the shock he needed to switch gears and get serious about quitting smoking came when he saw a lady sick in the hospital with her oxygen tank. The fear of ending up in the same situation led him to think about his own habit and how he needed to try quitting again. To his surprise, this time would prove to be successful. But his victory came about as a surprise, thanks to a new passion he discovered.

“It was just after Easter in April 2014. I had told everyone once again that I had just taken up the resolution to quit smoking,” he admits. “It was my 10th day without a cigarette and that little voice inside my head was starting to tell me that it was impossible. I felt defeated and I was ready to throw in the towel. Out of the blue, my administrative assistant suggested I take up running as a hobby and talked to me about a training program that could help me run a 10K. This is something I had actually wanted to do all my life, but I never had the courage to undertake. I decided I would do it, and I knew it would be impossible for me to run while I was a smoker. I thus started to train!”

Running and training for a 10K gave Robert the motivation he needed to stay smoke-free and not fall back into nicotine addiction.

“It certainly wasn’t easy. When you stop smoking, your body hurts. Your addiction to nicotine is playing tricks on you. I ached all over, but I knew I just needed to push through. In fact, my best advice to smokers who want to quit is that you just have to live every single moment, one at a time, and not think too much about the long term. Every moment counts in the beginning: all the times I had felt like I wanted to smoke, but didn’t, were a victory – whenever I didn’t listen to the little voice inside my head. Over time, that little voice becomes less present. You have to live from moment to moment, then from day to day, then from week to week. Give yourself some time, and then you’ll realize all of a sudden that several months have passed. You’re stronger; you don’t hear that little voice as often. You’re feeling so good physically and mentally that you do not want to go backwards.”

He continues: “I say to smokers: give yourself some time to get to that point. Imagine waking up and no longer coughing in the morning. Imagine your health improving. I say to smokers: no matter how many years you have invested in cigarettes, you can invest in your life now instead! You can really take a big bite out of life – it tastes so good when you are tobacco-free!”

Robert himself has been making every moment count and loving life since he’s been smoke-free.

“Before, I was a slave to cigarettes. For example, at work, in school, during breaks, I would run to my car so that I could smoke. I missed a lot of opportunities to socialize with colleagues and get involved in my students’ lives. At the movies or during a show, I would lose patience, I wasn’t paying attention to what was happening in front of me because I was counting the minutes left until I could get out and smoke. At the restaurant with friends, I would always cut the conversation short to head outside for a cigarette break. I realize now that I was missing a lot of life’s little pleasures.”

But being a non-smoker is a journey that continues throughout a lifetime. One must keep setting goals and be proud of the work that has been accomplished.”When I eventually completed my first 10km, I realized that I needed to set up a new objective for myself, because I still had the urge to smoke once in awhile. My new goal is to run an ultra 100K marathon – it will be in June 2015. And after that, I will give myself another goal to push myself further. Quitting smoking, for me, goes hand in hand with a good diet and physical activity. It is a new, healthier lifestyle that I must continue to explore.”

However, Robert is quite sure he will never smoke again, since he has seen just how better life is without cigarettes.

“Before, I thought that smoking was helping me,that it calmed me, relaxed me. I realize now that I was always tired. Now I sleep well, I feel much more rested. I have lots of energy and I feel good physically, much more than I could have ever imagined.”

Robert is committed to continuing his journey and helping smokers quit. Thus, the La Ruche School in Tracadie-Sheila is offering some of its classrooms and gym as a meeting and training space for the Learn to Run for Smokers Program – organized by the Acadian Peninsula Anti-Tobacco Coalition. He hopes that many teachers, parents and community members will participate. The group is to meet every Tuesday night for 8 weeks. Robert also offers support and advice to colleagues and friends and loves to see other people find their ultimate goal, which helps them quit smoking for good.

“I tell people not to listen to the little voice inside their heads that tells them it’s impossible. You can silence that voice. You are stronger than that voice!”

Photos: Courtesy of Robert Roy-Boudreau.

Published in March 2015

By Nathalie Landry – NBATC Communications Coordinator