We all run for a reason. Some have the talent to win races and break records, while others aim to get fit or achieve personal milestones. Some also use their running, regardless of distance or speed, to support good causes, help those in need and give back to society.
I started running multi-stage desert races in 2010. There is something very unique to running self-supported in extreme conditions in remote corners of the world – Kalahari, Namib, Sahara, Gobi, Atacama and Antarctica – covering distances of a marathon or more on four or five consecutive days. It is a tough and often painful experience, but making it to the finishing line in one piece is an amazing feeling and deeply satisfying.
About more than the physical challenges
However, my participation has always been about more than just overcoming the physical challenges associated with these events. It is also an opportunity to raise money and awareness for organisations at the forefront of responding to the key development challenges facing Africa. In the recent past, I have used my desert runs to support the work of Bono’s ONE Campaign in Africa, Greenpeace Africa and The Sunflower Fund, covering a diverse range of issues such as health, climate change and leukaemia.
Supporting these causes and organisations also relates closely to my work over the past 20 years with NGOs, foundations and other entities involved with development efforts in Africa. It therefore makes my overall running experience very real and meaningful.
My next desert race is the 273km Grand to Grand Ultra from 25 September – 1 October 2016 in the United States, and I’m using it to raise public awareness about neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), highlight the work of the END Fund, and mobilise $10,000 in support of the END Fund’s efforts to eliminate NTDs in Africa.
But there are many people today using their participation in running events and sport in general to help those in need or less unfortunate.
Extreme endurance athletes
Jamie Marais, a local extreme endurance athlete, set a new world record at the end of August 2016 for the greatest number of summits of Table Mountain ever attempted over two days. He reached the top of Cape Town’s iconic landmark 22 times in 28 hours as part of his #FourGiantsChallenge, and used his efforts to raise awareness and support for the Sabrina Love Foundation, an organisation which cares for children with special needs.
Australian ultra-distance runner, Samantha Gash, is currently running almost 4,000 km across India. She is using her run to raise funds for World Vision’s education initiatives in India. In 2014, she completed the Freedom Trail in South Africa – 2,350 km in 32 days, and used her run to raise money for Save the Children’s education and health programmes in the country.
George Chimel, someone who I met during the Gobi March in China and Last Desert Race in Antarctica, has just embarked on an epic run across the United States. He started on 11 September in San Diego, and aims to run 80km per day for 60 days across 14 states to Ground Zero in New York, finishing on Veteran’s Day, 11 November. His run is in aid of the Guardian for Heroes Foundation, an organisation providing training and support to military veterans with disabilities or suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS) from combat deployment.
Making a difference in society
These are incredible stories of endurance, sacrifice and commitment to overcome unique physical challenges, and in the process, making a difference in society. They are inspirational and motivational, and demonstrate how people can use their passion and talents to help those less fortunate.
But not everyone can or have to run through a desert or climb a mountain to support a good cause. 'Charity starts at home', so just develop an interest in the issues and challenges facing your local community, find out which organisations are active in the area, and enquire how you could support their efforts.
As Mahatma Gandhi once said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”
As Barnard embarks on his seven-day race at the end of this month, all funds raised will go towards END Fund initiatives in Africa.
David Barnard is a South African development expert with more than 20 years' experience in the NGO, technology and philanthropy sectors in Africa. He also participates in extreme desert races in support of social causes and campaigns dedicated to development issues in Africa and making a difference in society.
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