Scarborough, Ont., runner Denoja Uthayakumar is no stranger to hardship. Her upbringing her in Toronto’s inner city was far from easy, and she has taken her experiences from her and built a social platform where she can advocate for individuals from similar backgrounds.
Uthayakumar was born into a Tamil family; she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer at age five. “When I was diagnosed, I lost myself,” says Uthayakumar. She looks back on her cancer treatment at Sick Kids Hospital as a challenging time for her mentally. “I didn’t know how to love myself and I felt different from other kids,” she says.
Sports have always been a way for her to escape from the noise and negativity, but her parents wanted her to focus more on her education. “I grew up with dyslexia, which made going to school a stressful experience,” says Uthayakumar. “It took me twice as long to learn things, and I was bullied a lot.”
After everything Uthayakumar has been through, she has channeled her energy into being a support system for those around her. “Running is a safe space,” says Uthayakumar. “I run to represent my people. I want our voice to be heard—running is a sport for everybody.”
The 29-year-old is a member of the Brooks Run Happy Team, a Brooks-sponsored Canada-wide community team promoting inclusivity and encouraging people to get out and run. “My goal is to inspire others to embrace running and be true to themselves,” she says. “It’s OK to have challenging days.”
On June 24, Uthayakumar will join thousands of runners at the 2023 Pride and Remembrance 5K, in the same neighborhood where she grew up. “The LGBTQ+ community embraces individuals from diverse backgrounds, reflecting the diversity of this city,” says Uthayakumar. “This is my third year as a Pride and Remembrance Run ambassador. I am an ally, and will continue to advocate for inclusion and diversity. It’s important to appreciate everyone for who they are.”
“My mantra is—live life for you, and scream happily ever after.”
For more information or to volunteer for the 27th annual Pride and Remembrance 5K, visit here.