In 2009 when i ran the length of NZ 2,250km in 43 days for Cure kids and CanTeen i designed a programme which was instigated in the primary schools called “The K a day” challenge – a 14 day programmed aimed at getting kids out running and being active every day.
The challenge took place during my run – kids followed my progress through the country through blogs, photos and videos and media, and were asked to get friends and family to sponsor them to do their own 14 day challenge (with the proceeds going to the two charities)
The children had to run a minimum of 1 kilometre a day (more if they chose). During the NZ run i visited over 50 schools (interrupting my daily program of between 45 and 75km a day) to talk to them about the importance of healthy eating and exercise, and to tell them about the challenges facing many of their peers with cancer and other diseases.
I am currently a CanTeen ambassador alongside Dan Carter, Maria Tutaia, and scott Dixon and am involved with the bandana challenge and fundraising events as well as talking to the young people affected by cancer.
During the NZ run the “K a day” challenge was also taken up by other runners and general public inspired by my run.
I had many stories of people taking on their own challenges from starting their a fitness programme to losing weight to running their own personal records
The most delightful stories though were from 3 rest homes, where residents were encouraged during my run to set themselves their own challenges - i had a 99 year old man who was wheel chair bound – get out his chair and walk with help, 50 metres a day. Another 84 year old woman who walked 3km everyday.
A man who had lost both legs and one arm and who was wheel chair bound decided to use his good arm to power himself through 20 rounds of the rest home grounds everyday. He was on such a mission everyday that he said it had given him a goal again, and the phantom pains he had been experiencing had disappeared and his outlook on life had improved so much.
He was taken off his pain medication.
Another woman who was my age who had multiple sclerosis and who was virtually a tetraplegic but whose brain still functioned normally (she had been an accountant).
she had been completely institutionalised for two years, having never left the confines of the rest home. Her challenge was to go out every week, which she did with her caregivers and she, along with the others came to meet me as i ran into my hometown, and was pushed along the walkway. she later started going to cafes and even had Xmas dinner with her family.
These stories demonstrate the power of sport to motivate, and inspire people to overcome their problems, and this is the core of my message.
I have had to over come many obstacles and problems to do what I do and I literally have no talent as a runner but that is beside the point in fact I think that helps others others to think “well, hell, if she can do that, then i can do x”
I was welcomed into Ashburton by the Ross family who had organised their young rugby team to come and run with me for the 15 km into the town. They were joined by a number of local girls and their mums. so as i ran into Ashburton I was escorted
“Forrest Gump” style by a 50 strong group.
For a start the rugby boys weren’t impressed at having to run 15km, but by the time we got to Ashburton and Ii gave a speech to them, 10 of the kids decided they wanted to continue on with me as i ran out of town. These kids had never run more than 5km, but on that day each and every one ran 30km.
One boy in particular touched my heart. A sixteen year old named Dean who was hugely overweight. He struggled to keep up and keep going, but as the kilometres passed he still hung in there. The other kids really encouraged him to keep going when he started to falter at about 19 km mark. This was a kid who usually got hassled for his weight, but here his peers were just blown away with his guts and determination and it spurred them on further and further too. Then one by one the kids started cramping up, and fatiguing, but they spurred each other onwards. Till the 30km mark, when I had to tell me enough is enough and carried on my way but man I was damned proud of them.
By this time we had a convoy of parents following and cheering the kids on and i will never forget Dean’s mum coming over to me as her son just finished the 30km with tears welling up in her eyes and saying “thank you for doing that for the kids and my boy”.
Three weeks later I returned to Ashburton for a speaking engagement and got all those kids on stage, and told the town how awesome they were. There aren’t many 15 and 16 year olds who have run those sort of distances.
Another very overweight man was waiting for me when i reached Patea in Taranaki. He shyly approached me as i ran past his gate and asked if he could join me for 2 km, and that he had been following my run from the beginning. He had set himself his own challenge and had lost 7kg already. His big goal was to one day run a 5km fun run.
Mike joined me, along with half of the Patea township. Two kms down the road i had to visit a school where all the kids had been doing the “K a Day” challenge. Mike waited, and when i got back on the road he was there again alongside me. i said to him Mike, “you are going to do your 5km today mate”. And he grinned.
The huge group running with me started to encourage Mike to keep going, and going. 17km later, as Finished outside a country pub where a crowd was waiting for us, Mike was still with us, absolutely exhausted and so red in the face that i was worried he would have a heart attack.
But he had run 17km with me. As we all piled into the pub and were shouted beers by the publican i announced Mike as my “player of the day”, and the whole pub cheered and congratulated him.
By the time i left Mike was planning on training for a marathon and he has gone on to lose a lot more weight. Last I heard he was well on track.
There are an abundance of such stories I could tell.
A woman who was inspired by my story to run and who went onto lose 60kgs. Another who was facing breast cancer came to visit me in my shop and told me how my book and my story had encouraged her to never give up.
Another guy I mentor who I met at my gym; Kylie has cerebral palsy; is legally blind and is epileptic.
I have coached Kylie, and one year he ran the last 10km of a 160km run around our mountain with me. it was a huge mission for him to accomplish this and since then he has gone on to be a role model for disabled athletes. I have helped with media and sponsorship campaigns, and he has taken up long distance cycling and has finished some big events. It's changed his life and his epilepsy is now under control.
Ultramarathon running is a sport that blows all the rules.
An experienced 70 year old runner can waste an athletic 20 year old.
I have seen a blind man run the Moroccan sahara; seen a man with one leg (blown off in a mine explosion) beat me across the line in the so called toughest race on earth - 217km in Death Valley.
I have seen two cerebral palsy children carried on specially designed carriers across 250km in a race across the sahara by two groups of runners who wanted these kids to experience something incredible.
I have seen a woman with multiple sclerosis trudge her way across 240km in the desert on crutches. The same woman who had won the race years earlier.
The guts and determination; the mind blowing human spirit is what attracts me to this sport. The types of people i have met doing this are amazing, humbling and inspiring.
I consider it my duty and my mission in life to help inspire people to reach their dreams, not just in running, but whatever their dreams may be. I am proof that you don’t have to be talented and blessed genetically to do awesome things.
Proof that determination and will power and guts are far more important qualities to achieving than talent.
I also love seeing woman in particular achieving incredible things. Only 40 years ago women were considered too delicate to
run even marathons. It wasn't until 1984 that the women’s marathon finally got accepted into the Olympics.
Now in ultramarathon running we rival the men in their own races. In fact the longer the race the more likely that the overall winner will be a woman.
It's one sport where women are almost as good as the men. As its not about speed and muscle size but about determination, will power, pain management and endurance. something we excel at.
So use running or whatever your chosen sport is to inspire, encourage and achieve the extraordinary.
In the words of one of the greatest and wisest men of all time, Nelson Mandela.
"Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair."