Losing her daughter left Lisa Madill a victim and enduring the agonizing court process where facing the killer made her a victim again. But after battling depression in the aftermath of the slaying of her youngest child, Shannon, Madill decided to lose that label for good.
“It felt like somebody had put a black wool, wet blanket on top of my head and I couldn’t claw my way through it to fresh air,” the 58-year-old Calgarian says.
Madill feared she would never escape the clutches of grief and turned to therapists, pharmaceuticals, acupuncture and meditation only to find herself still crushed under the weight of a deep depression.
Things would change when she went to a homicide victims support group and met Geoff Starling, a fitness professional grappling with the execution-style slaying of his brother in Australia.
“He said he could punch a heavy bag and get his frustrations out for an hour and that sounded really good to me,” she recalls.
Desperate and doubtful, Madill approached Starling to see if he would show her the ropes.
He agreed and over the years the two have forged a friendship.
“She is an absolute poster child of what can be achieved through exercise,” he says.
For Starling, working out always offered a constructive outlet for stress and after his brother, Laurie ‘Loz’ Starling, — an innocent man caught in the crosshairs of a motorcycle gang feud — was gunned down, he literally leaned on it.
“Some days you just leave everything in the locker and go to the gym,” he says. “You direct that energy into the bar, into squats and deadlifts and when you put the bar down, the energy was channelled into the lift and you could leave it there and walk away from it.”
Starling figured it would be “a game-changer” for Madill and he was right – the grieving mother soon harnessing the power of pushing through the pain.
When she began training with Starling, she was new to the gym but soon discovered working out helped her work through her grief.
“I like the way I feel when my body is tired and sore but feels stronger and more capable,” Madill says.
Madill now hits the gym six times a week – one workout with Starling and others they have met through the homicide support group.
Shannon – an unexpected blessing born four years after Madill’s second-last child — had grown up to become an actor and a stand-up comedian when she was killed by her husband, Joshua Burgess – a devasting discovery made months after the 25-year-old went missing.
“I think she really believed her purpose in life was to laugh and keep everyone upbeat and that’s gone,” Madill says. “I kind of lost my identity when she went missing but I think the healthier your body is the healthier your mind becomes and I’ll tell you, exercise has been really good for my soul.”
Burgess was convicted of second-degree murder but Madill’s happiness doesn’t hinge on anything the court doled out.
“If it was three years or 300 years it wouldn’t be enough,” she says. “I am really hoping for forgiveness, but I’m not sure that’s possible. I guess you just go to the gym and hit something. I have been victimized but it’s up to me whether I’m going to remain a victim. You can choose to be happy or sad.”