Maria Jacko is an Algonquin Anishnaabe from Kitigan Zibi, QC. She’s a proud mother of three beautiful daughters, twin 18-year olds and a 13-year-old. She is a certified fitness instructor, medical laboratory technician, and entrepreneur (founder of Rebound Triumph and Maria’s Essential Oils). Maria has been fortunate enough to teach fitness and lead programs at Kitigan Zibi School, Kitigan Zibi Health Centre, the Odawa Native Friendship Centre, and a number of other organizations throughout the Ottawa region. She also organizes an annual run called the KZ Run/Walk for Maisy and Shannon, in honour of her niece who went missing nine years ago. You can learn more about the KZ Run/Walk for Maisy and Shannon at www.findmaisyandshannon.com
What is the role of sport/physical activity in your life?
Physical activity is a huge part of my life because I know how good and strong it makes me feel, both mentally and physically. I aim to exercise every day. Some days I can’t exercise, but I do not let it stress me like I used to. Now, if don’t have time to exercise one day, I either give thanks for my body needing the rest or I think about how I’m going to work out twice as hard the next day. It’s easier to train if I have a goal so I make sure I always have a goal to strive for. For example, right now I have three goals. I am in a fitness challenge for the Odawa Health Living Program in Ottawa. This challenge is done twice a year and you can join as a team or as an individual. The competition has three categories; fat loss, muscle gain and weight loss. My team right now is with my sisters and my friend. I think this is a great competition because it keeps me focused on training and on my nutrition intake. My second goal is winning in track and field at the Masters Indigenous Games this summer. I have been running and setting weekly goals for myself to improve my speed. My third goal is to run the Toronto Waterfront half marathon in October this year. I have run 5 marathons and several half marathons in the past so I know how to train for this. It never gets any easier though! Running these distances is always hard no matter what! The types of exercise I do vary depending on the time of year. In the summer, I teach a trail running group for the Odawa Healthy Living Program. I love training outside and I love being in nature. We run in the Gatineau Park from May to October every year. I also run along the trails close to my house and I bike and swim in the summer. In the winter, I mainly take fitness classes such as circuit training, yoga, kettle bells and spinning, or I run on a treadmill at the gym. I teach rebounding classes (exercise on a minitrampoline and using small weights) in the winter in my home community of Kitigan Zibi and at Odawa. I teach the youth at the Kitigan Zibi School once a week during the school year. Recently, I started skiing again and I love it. I haven’t skied in about 15 years and I forgot how fun it was! I believe it’s important to vary and change up your activities so that you have something new and fun to look forward to.
How do you define wellness?
Wellness for me is all encompassing and holistic. It is like the Medicine Wheel teachings and includes the mental, physical, emotional and spiritual elements. Taking care of me is very important on all these levels. Wellness for me also includes taking care of your body and watching what you put into it and on it. For example, drinking a lot of water and ensuring you get all of your vitamins and minerals through your nutrition but also making sure to get plenty of sunshine and to replenish yourself by getting the proper amount of sleep you need each night. I also believe in using natural products to help maintain wellness. I use natural soaps and moisturizers for my skin. I use inhalers with essential oils to help increase my focus and my energy when I need it and I also use natural products such as bath salts and natural oils to help with relaxation and muscle pain after working out. Lastly I believe wellness includes contributing to make a difference for those around you and it includes having an open mind and growing and learning,
What are the things you do each day that make you a ‘Wellness Warrior’?
I exercise each day from twenty minutes to an hour. Every morning upon waking up, I ensure that I start off my day with an attitude of gratitude by thinking of three things that I am grateful for. Sometimes I burn sage and cleanse myself and think of all things I am grateful for. I also meditate for 20 minutes daily. I have an audio guided meditation that I listen to, usually in the morning. I’m conscious about what I eat daily. I’m a pesco-vegetarian and I believe that nutrition plays a great role in wellness. I am currently writing a book that aims to inspire youth. Lastly, I recently started to train my daughter, as a sport psychologist, to mentally train her and to help her achieve her goal of becoming an Olympian in Track and Field.
Who or what is your inspiration?
I’m inspired by my daughters. I strive to be my best because I want the best for them. I am inspired by wanting to see other Indigenous people healthy. I want to see our people thrive and lead healthy, passionate lives. I’m inspired by those who help our youth thrive to the best they can be. I am also inspired by seeing the drive and passion in Indigenous athletes. I’m inspired by my 18 year old daughter Jennifer who has a goal to be a future Olympian in track and field. I admire her hard work, commitment and passion to achieve her goal. She gets off track once in a while but I admire how she gets back out there and continues right where she left off.
What excites you about the Masters Indigenous Games?
I’m excited about the Masters Indigenous Games because there has never been anything like this before. These games are helping middle age and older Indigenous adults to strive for something, to train to be their best and to become healthier in the process. I’m excited to test myself against other Indigenous people in my generation! It’s a great focus for this age group and my hope is that more funding and more incentives go into this type of programming. I hope these games become a regular thing. It will help to get our generation motivated and to learn to set goals and this will have an effect on other areas of our lives!