I’ve always said that learning to run is what changed my life after being seriously injured in a car accident in 2005. They said I’d never be able to run again, but it was learning to do so that made the biggest difference in my recovery. Running taught me the value of setting goals, showed me that I could use fitness to manage my pain and reminded me that I had a strong network supporting me, every painful step of the way.
What I didn’t realize was that although it changed my life, it would also one day give me the power to change the lives of many others.
Running was supposed to be this impossible thing, but I proved to myself that the impossible can become possible. It was secretly a goal of mine to one day run an ultra marathon and in 2013, I did it. Alongside a team of 20 runners who had together raised more than $35,000 for clean water projects in Ethiopia, I completed the 57 km Run for Water Ultra. I had never fundraised before, let alone run an ultra marathon and the combination of working so hard physically and so hard charitably really resonated with me.
We had only just arrived and already they were thanking us for the difference we were making in their lives.
Every year I completed this event, I became more and more invested until I finally had the chance to visit Ethiopia last fall. Together with 15 other runners from the Lower Mainland, we traveled to Hidri, Ethiopia to get to know the men, women and children of this remote, mountain village. Most of the people in this village had never met an outsider (or ferengi, in their local language), yet they welcomed us into their village with an elaborate parade of music, singing, dancing and chanting. We had only just arrived and already they were thanking us for the difference we were making in their lives.
Hidri is a very remote, rural community that had barely ever been acknowledged by local authorities and politicians. The young women in this village had to walk hours every day down a steep, rocky mountainside to fetch unclean water from a tiny spring. This was a job that prevented most of them from being able to attend school, which had previously just been groups of students and a teacher huddled under makeshift shelters scattered around the village site.
Prior to the trip, we worked tirelessly to raise more than $100,000 for the construction of a new school and a well to provide clean water to the village and surrounding areas. Our team’s work would give 5,000 people access to clean water for the first time in their lives.
Our team’s work would give 5,000 people access to clean water for the first time in their lives.
Our group spent three days living with the people in Hidri and we were welcomed into their homes, their farms, and their celebrations. We sat in on school lessons, laughed in the kitchens with the village women and danced through the night with torches at the bonfire. Although this village had been mostly forgotten, their sense of community was contagious, and their generosity touched each one of us as they shared what little they had.
This was the trip of a lifetime. I had to pinch myself many times to make sure it was real. It seemed like just yesterday I was laying in a hospital bed wondering if I’d ever be active again and now here I was, deep in the Ethiopian mountainside with an entire village full of people whose lives were about to change because of the running that meant so much to me.
Running changed my life all those years ago and now it had become something I could do to help change the lives of others. Running and charity have somehow always gone hand in hand and I think of those smiling faces with every step I take because I know it is helping them change their lives too.