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Our journey for Sams' Trust - Hawera to Havelock

The Hawera to Havelock fundraising run for the Samuel Gibson memorial trust, 340km across the North Island - The background story and why we did it.

The tears are flowing freely as I hang on for the last kilometre of this long run for the Samuel Gibson memorial trust. Beside me is Hannah and behind me, Samuels mum, they have joined me for the last wee stretch to the finish of my leg of the run. We reach the end and hug. I wobble stiffly over to my mum who is in stuck in her wheelchair in the van that has been accompanying me on this weeks mission. 

She is rocking trying to get out but she can’t, her legs wont work. She has tears in her eyes too.The first I have seen her cry since her aneurysm 9 months ago, that took so much from her and nearly cost her life. The tears are good they mean she feels, remembers, loves, something she couldn’t do just months earlier. Janice, Samuels’ mum climbs into the van and the two mothers hug. One who has lost her precious son Samuel. Its been the toughest year of our lives for both our families. 

My family because mum was all but ripped out of our lives but who hung in after her devastating brain injury, who awoke from her coma with virtually nothing, no memory, no ability to focus, no knowledge of who she was or who we were, unable to move or help herself in anyway but who has beaten all prognosis, all odds, to regain so much of the quality of life she enjoyed before. The battle and the road is still a long one, her legs still won’t do what they should but she can speak, read, write, and feel and is back in the centre of our family but theres Janice and Hannah and the whole Gibson family who weren’t so lucky whose son, brother, husband, father was cruelly taken from them suddenly after a devastating brain injury in May this year. 

Both mothers hug and cry. 

How did we get here?

I am taken back to an evening two and a half years ago in Napier. I was doing a tour of the North Island - speaking. On this particular night the opera house was jammed full but there in the front row is a tiny wee man in a crazy looking wheelchair grinning up at me, following every word and laughing and crying at my stories. I decided I wanted to know this guy and find out his story. I head down after my speech and meet him. Samuel Gibson is his name and he looks at me and says, wow your stories are so amazing and inspiring and I am thinking to myself actually I bet mine are nothing compared to yours, tell me your story. 

Samuel explains to me about his brittle bones disease, the challenges he has faced and overcome and how he gets on in life. I am truly in awe at this guys attitude, what he has achieved and am left with my mouth open and speechless. The motivational speaker suddenly feels not quite so inspiring. Then Samuel says to me something that stuck in my mind. He said “Lisa, if you ever want a little guy rolling alongside you in a wheelchair while your are running something stupid, I’m your man.”

I chucked my head back and laughed and then realised he was dead serious. “For real?” I ask. “ Absolutely for real he says” and proceeds to tell me about some of the adventures he has taken on. This guy has an attitude. I mean a seriously good attitude, “Obstacle” what obstacle? Lets find a way around it”

So a friendship was born on that night and the idea of doing something epic with this guy stuck in my head. In the ensuing weeks Samuel and I wrote and phoned each other often and came up with a crazy, mad plan that might just be epic enough. Samuel had been in contact with a family in Christchurch. The Wisnuery family had four children but their youngest, Ryuki had been born with severe Osteogenesis Imperfecta or brittle bones disease just like Samuel and was facing a very difficult road ahead. Samuel knew what that road would be like for the little boy and for his family. 

Samuels’ family had fought to keep Samuel at home, refusing to put in him in an institution as was recommended back then when he was a young boy and Samuel was eternally grateful to his family for loving him and supporting him though everything. 

So we decided we would raise money for this little boys' family to help with all the house alterations that would need to be done. The cause was settled, now we had to come up with a route. We settled on doing the 300km Alps to Ocean cycle trail in the South Island, an off road trail run that would see us go from the bottom of Mt Cook to the ocean in Oamaru. We convinced my fiance’, Haisley O’Leary and my business partner and mate, Neil Wagstaff that they too should be involved in this epic adventure.

We were set, the mission was on, the fundraising, sponsor search, logistics planning and training was all underway when tragedy blew everything apart. 

In May 2016 whilst on a training run at the Hawkes Bay Half marathon Samuel had an accident and died as a result of his injuries. We were all devastated. Devastated at the loss of our friend, for the future he would have had, for his children and his wife, for his family. 

Initially we didn’t know what to do but grieve but very soon that grief wanted to turn into action. We couldn’t just let Samuels legacy pass away with him and we still had a duty to fulfil. To raise money for little Ryuki and his family. 

Over the following months a plan started to emerge. Money was pouring in from all quarters for Ryuki in the aftermath of Samuels death and we reach the targeted amount through fundraising events like 12 hour bike-athons at Peak fitness gym and fun runs and event held in Hawkes Bay and through the ensuing publicity. 

Then Hamish McBeth, Samuels long time friend and Samuels brother, Mathew decided to start a trust to continue the work Samuel had been doing and what he stood for, enabling people with disabilities to live rich and fully integrated lives in society, to live out their dreams. One day while talking to the team about what we could do, I came up with a slightly nutty idea. Now considering the work load I was under with caring full time for mum and the business work pressures it really was biting off more than I could chew but I felt emotionally driven to help in some way so I blurted it out on the phone without, as usual, considering at all what it would mean to actually achieve. 

“How about we run from Samuels childhood home, where he was born, Hawera, to where he had made his life and home with his family, Havelock North, and lets do it in three days.” The team jumped at the idea. An adventure Samuel would have loved to have been involved with and so the mission was set once gain. 

As with all such undertakings, you never have any idea just how hard it will be to organise, get sponsors and the logistics. The first problem I had was that I couldn’t leave mum for that 5 or 6 days while I went galavanting around the country.

When I told mum what I wanted to do she said something that made my heart ache. “I don’t suppose I can ever be a part of your missions again.” That statement sat me on my ass and made me very sad and and then I thought well “hell yes you can” and her eyes lit up. "Really?" "Yes, we will make it happen" If there is one thing I learnt from Samuel it was about making things work for people with disabilities despite how difficult the undertaking might be. He had for example backpacked around Asia now try that one in a wheelchair. But he did it because he wanted to and because he had wonderful friends who helped him. I didn’t know how I could make it happen for mum but I was determined we would do it. That mum would get to live her wish to be back with me on the road again, on a mission together. 

When you encounter an obstacle you have to keep searching, pushing, asking for help to find a way around it and so I set to finding a team to help with mum. Mum was still 24/7 care and it would take a lot of energy for her to be out with us so the planning had to be done carefully to make it viable.

The next mission, to get the support we would need from corporate sponsors to make it happen and to plan the logistics, the route, the timetable, the crew and the finish line event, the media releases, website, social media campaigns and promotions and finally the big gala fundraising auction event with a large number of high value items being donated for auction and which ended up being held at the beautiful Craggy Range Winery. 

The clock ticked down, the date was set and the team went into mission mode. 

Then finally on the 7th of November 2016 we all convened in Hawera, ready for an early morning start. 

5am and the alarm goes. We are up and at em straight away. Heading to the Gibson family Homestead where Samuel grew up. Everyone is up. Samuels little girls Isabel and Rosa, Jen his wife, Sams’ parents and siblings. Even the Mayor Ross Dunlop and his wife are there to give us a good send off. 

At 6am just before we are about to set off the earth starts shaking under our feet. A big earthquake that goes for quite some time. We are all wondering if its a sign. I couldn’t help thinking for a moment that maybe Sam was trying to say something… silly but the thought was real. It turned out it was but a sign alright. A sign of a bigger one coming - a week later the big one hit, a seriously frightening one..and NZ and Kaikoura and Wellington especially are fighting there way through it.

Milton our cameraman sets up the camera and we all say our bit and then its time to launch the run. 3, 2, 1 and we are off. Carrying the little shoe that was Sams’s favourite and which is now worn by his three year old daughter. The shoe was to be the baton as we relayed across the country and we are reminded by just how small Sam was and what he must have gone through in life to only grow to 3 feet in height.

Everyone runs up the long winding drive way with us. A special and warm hearted moment before we are finally sent off on our own. 

Haisley and I are first up running together. 54km on the plan for the day.

I am nervous, this year has been tough and I haven’t been able to train as I usually would for such an event. Haisley is more confident, he has just finished a 100km trail run three weeks prior at Taupo (Taupo blog: www.linearendurance.blogspot.co.nz). He is perhaps a little jaded still but at least he has the miles in the legs. 

Neil Wagstaff is the other one in this running trio, my business partner and long time friend. He was with Samuel when the tragedy struck, running alongside him during the Hawkes Bay Half marathon and was devastated by what happened and is super motivated to make this run count and to honour Samuels memory by continuing his legacy. 

The first day ends up really tough. The traffic is bad but not too bad. The crew are onto it, even though its their first time doing this sort of thing. We even have a cameraman along for the ride documenting it all and posting it the various social media platforms who ends up doing a fantastic job.

The pain starts setting in around 30km mark, making the next 24km a really long haul. The lack of training means my hips joints and back are in a lot of pain and I cant hold my head upright. The camber of the road means Haisleys knee is giving him some serious problems. Somehow we manage to toddle onwards, getting slower and slower but hanging in there. Then a highlight as Kirsty and my mum drive past in the van and pull up in Patea for a quick hug. Having mum with me on the road is so special. She very nearly didn’t survive her aneurysm so every day we have together is for me so special and despite her disabilities she can hug me as she always has and make it all better. 

Haisley and I finally make it to the end of our run and Neil is off with Samuels shoe. He sets a blistering pace. Looking strong as we head past him tooting and yahooingl. Later that afternoon he runs past where we are staying but isn’t his usual chatty self. He quickly gives mum a hug but doesn’t stop long. He looks very focused and under some duress. A few kilometres later he hits a wall. HIs stomach is causing him trouble and he ends up with vomiting and diahhroea. He stops for a bit and tries to settle his tummy. “houston we have a problem” says Milton the cameraman to a Facebook live audience. Poor Neil his vomiting is recorded for all to see. He bravely tries to continue but after another 500 metres vomits more and every mouthful of water he tries to take in comes straight back out. He has a severe electrolyte imbalance I am guessing. Digestive stress is common during ultras. There is hardly a regular ultra marathon runner who hasn’t experienced such a moment, even when you know all the tricks, it can still go wrong.

Neil can’t go on and one of the other guys has to finish the last 5km. He is really ill and he spends the next few hours mostly in the toilet. Mum, takes one look at him and tears well up. “Is he going to be alright?”

“Definitely mum, you know what its like you have seen it all before.” I reassure her. 

She sure has after following me around the world on missions. Many a time I haven been the one throwing up in the gutter. But its’ the first time I have seen her cry and it’s a good sign, a sign that her emotions are coming back online after the aneurysm, 

Next morning we are off again. This time it’s me up first. 37km on the plan. Which despite my history of running super long races, appears to me, to be impossibly long (damn I wished I had trained more) 

The trucks are crazy, and the early morning sun is blinding and there are few scary moments. At around the 30km mark, I am joined by Kim, one of the girls we help coach and her visit lifts my spirits and helps me limp into the end. My right leg is in a lot of pain from the camber of the road, but at least day two is done and dusted. It’s been painful. 

Haisley is up and off with no dramas and then Neil has the tough leg climbing up into the Manawatu gorge trail to avoid the dangerous section of road. 

By the end of day two the boys are looking totally stuffed up, burnt, drained and exhausted. The before and after photos are classic. I am avoiding the camera, look rather messed up myself.

Day threes alarm clock goes at 4:45am and I open my eyes an go “oh no” not again. I am so tired and it’s drizzling outside on the busy road. Phew. Oh well time to take a teaspoon of concrete. 

It’s a long boring road with a thousand trucks, often no berm on the side of the road and no where to go. Its like dodgems and you have to be on the ball, once I even end up climbing the bridge railing as a truck bears down on me with no where to go, the wet road means every truck ends in a shower of dirty water and a the odd flying stone so with every truck we have to hold our hats and shield our faces. But after 36km I see Kirsty and mum roll by in the van. 

Kirsty is mums carer and friend. She has selflessly given up the whole week to care for her 24/7. An ultra in itself. Mum still needs around the clock care and without her I couldn’t have done this. 

Then another car pulls up and Samuels mum and dad and sister Hannah jump out to greet me. I can’t help a little tear welling up. The fatigue and the thoughts of Samuel and what his family has been through mean the emotions are running high. Janice, Samuels mum and Hannah decide to run with me the last kilometre. We reach the end and I introduce Janice to Isobel and the two mums hug and share a special moment.

The boys get through their legs no problems and Neil arrives into the outskirts of Havelock at 6pm on Thursday evening the 10th of November. We are all there to join him on the last kilometre in. But we aren’t alone. over 100 people are there to join us, tons of kids and people in wheelchairs. The police escort though, doesn’t turn up so we have to do our own traffic control, the 7 sharp TV crew are there so we have to run in slow and let them catchup. Its’s a bit of a mission keeping all the kids in check and out of harms way but we finally reach the school where then finish line is set up and now I can finally enjoy the moment we have been working toward for 5 months. 

The finish line, no more running, a big celebration, me pushing my mum in the wheelchair over the line. Memories being made. Kids laughing and playing. Samuels wife and kids running around cheering, Sams parents. Everyone remembering the man, enjoying the moment and one of the most special things was that Ryuki and his mum Asami were there to join us. The little boy with brittle bones disease that we were originally raising money for. It was a wonderful unifying moment with everyon touched by Samuel in someway, there to share it.

So many emotions, tears, joy, sadness and hope all bundled into one scene. The journey that Ryuki and Asami have ahead of them, the loss that we all feel at losing such a wonderful man in Samuel Gibson, happiness that after the biggest battle of my family’s lives, mum is strong enough to be with me again, in a wheelchair but very much alive and happy.

Its been a special week, the most important run for all of us. A privilege and an honour. 

The following night we had a big gala fundraising auction and dinner and with all the other fundraising avenues yet to calculated I think we can safely say the Samuel Gibson memorial Trust is off to a good start, a start that will benefit many other people challenged with disabiiites. 


www.givealittle.co.nz keyword Hawera to Havelock.