Some will say that the term is cliché’ – and maybe that is true. But sometimes, you need a big phrase to encapsulate a BIG experience.

Last week I shared a letter to myself on the eve of my weeklong health and wellness retreat adventure at Mountain Trek  health spa, fitness and weight loss retreat in British Columbia. But what about the after reflection?

How did I feel after my seven days of 5-6 hours a day of fitness and movement?

How did I feel after my seven days of eating calorie-controlled spa cuisine?

How did I feel after seven days of detox protocols and infra-red saunas?

How did I feel after seven days of mountain and glacier-lake vistas?

Somehow even the term life-changing does not feel like enough to aptly describe my Mountain Trek week. But it was. Life-changing.

Rather than a deep dive into the specifics of the program (trust me – those will come)…today I am going to focus on what I learned…about me. Because in the end, it was the subtle and unexpected moments that made my time at Mountain Trek so sublime.

I learned that I am strong.

I am Strong | LiveDoGrow

When it comes to physical or fitness related challenges, I tend to aspire to BIG goals (like marathons), but I am not always the best at pushing myself to the limit of my potential in my training.  What I discovered on the trail at Pilot Bay, on our third hike was that not only have I not pushed myself, but I have let the ghost of my breath plague my efforts. This ghost first came to me after my chemo-therapy induced lung damage many moons ago and has never left – creating havoc on not just my breath – but on my emotions. The cycle usually went something like this: go for a run or for a hike – get short of breath – start huffing and puffing – and then believe that I needed to pause, stop or rest before continuing. For years I have perpetuated the cycle. Until Mountain Trek.

By the end of our first hike at Pilot Bay (I did not know at the time that we would be returning to the same trail later in the week), I felt discouraged with sloppy hiking pole placements – and as if I was the slowest in our group. (Note: my group mates always encouraged me towards the middle or front of our group, but I felt insecure about holding them up  or slowing them down.) My  heart was disappointed, even if our group (group 2) had just hiked almost seven miles and climbed 465 vertical feet.

During our mid-week check-in on Wednesday I shared my frustrations with Kirkland Shave – Mountain Trek’s Program Director. I shared my revised goals of wanting to build my endurance and improve my self-confidence. Instead of suggesting that I push myself, Kirkland invited me to take a step back to hiking group three– for one day. To focus on my breathing, my form and my strength on the trail without pressuring myself to achieve. I soon discovered that Kirkland had given me a gift – the permission to regroup without judgement. Permission that I probably would never have given myself…but that I needed.

Hiking that day on the Buchanan Trail with group three, for a shorter 4.62 miles  – I still climbed 900 vertical feet…but at a slightly slower pace. Instead of my perpetual caboose placement on the trail, I actually led the group (right behind our guide). I still huffed and puffed but I did not judge myself. I listened to my breath and focused on the in and out – digging deep into my lungs for air – and letting it fill me instead of letting it sabotage me.

The next day, we headed back to Pilot Bay and I returned to group two with two goals: to not apologize for my speed and to not let my breathing control me. The first incline – that had seemed so devastating two days prior – came and went. So did the second and third. Granted –over the course of the 8.3 miles and 1600 vertical feet – I had my moments. I slowed down. I paused. I caught my breath. But Cathy – our guide for the day and Mountain Trek’s Fitness Director and Lead Guide– encouraged me (as did my trusty group mates). High fives awaited me at the top of each climb…and never once did I apologize for slowing the group down. At the end of the day, not only did I conquer my goals…but I stopped letting the ghost of my breath haunt me.

By the time we returned to the trail head – I realized that I am stronger than my breath. I am stronger than the ghost of my lung damage. And that if I just allow myself to push through, the reward is that I can achieve new heights.

I learned that I am brave.

I am brave | LiveDoGrow

Early in the week, it became clear that the Mountain Trek experience would stir up emotions that I did not expect. Emotions of pride, but also emotions of fear. Emotions of sadness and anger at myself. Judgements. Luckily, Mountain Trek has added private counseling sessions to the list of additional services available to guests during the week. Instead of dismissing my feelings (like I have done for the past two years) I made an appointment with Milli – the psycho-therapist – to talk about what I perceived was a trend of self-sabotage that had plagued me (and that I was afraid I would fall prey to once I returned home).

What can you really accomplish in a one-time, one hour session with a therapist?


I talked. I judged myself using self-imposed criteria and against unrealistic perceptions. I cried. Milli listened. I nodded. I cried some more. But by the end of our session– I knew that I had taken a step that I never would have taken at home. A brave step…to be honest with myself. But also? A brave step to move forward, knowing that it won’t always be easy, but that anything is possible if I focus on creating my own path instead of on the “should.”

I learned that I am kind.

Lessons learned from Mountain Trek- I am Kind | LiveDoGrow

Ok, so this might seem like a strange realization. But for a very long time, I have judged myself as “not a good friend” or a “bad mom and wife.” I do not make the effort to sustain relationships with friends. I yell too much at home. But at Mountain Trek – none of that mattered.

Suddenly, I was one of 15 individuals on a mission – each with unique personal goals. While I shared my own stories and dreams, I also listened. At the dinner table, in the hot tub, on the trail and around the living room while we soaked our feet in epsom salts. I encouraged others and reminded them of what they had achieved despite the frustration and exhaustion they might have felt.

I was kind to others…but also? By the end of the week, I was kind…to myself.

I cheered on others during our circuit training and spin class. But I also cheered myself on during our modified cross-fit style class. I gave myself the gift of not working late into the evening and embracing new sleep habits. I listened to my body and gently encouraged it to speed up on the trail.

So yes…I had a life-changing experience at Mountain Trek. Because while I expected my adventure to challenge me and hoped that it would help me refocus and recommit to my health – I left with so much more than just lower numbers on the scale.


*I was guest of Mountain Trek during my stay. I covered my own airfare and my private consultation with Milli. I was thrilled to not just satisfy a long-time bucket list travel dream but to learn tools to create more opportunities for everyday wellness – and hopefully to inspire others to create their own wellness journeys. All opinions are my own and no other compensation was received (unless you count the many gifts of strength, kindness and confidence that I brought home in my heart).






Written by Elena Sonnino

Elena Sonnino

Chaser of Dreams. Life coach, wellness and travel writer, yogini, former teacher, adventure seeker, hiker, foodie …and oh right, cancer survivor. Elena writes about finding everyday wellness in far-flung lands and in her own backyard in the Washington D.C. suburbs.


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