My Athletic Background

At a very young age, my parents taught me that sports and exercise were the key to a healthy lifestyle. Therefore, I tried many different sports when I was a little girl: figurethumb_Julz-piscine2-new_1024 skating, jazz ballet, cross country skiing, downhill skiing, swimming, soccer and tennis. As long as I was active, I was happy. At 10 years old, I decided to join the Hearst Phoenix Swim Team with my sister. Soon after, my little brother and little sister followed our steps. Every morning of the week, the four of us were all up at 5am, ready to jump in the pool! I swam and competed with the team for 8 years, until grade 12.

thumb_DSC_1258_1024

During my first triathlon

I then moved to Ottawa to pursue my studies at the University of Ottawa. During my first year, I was living on the campus, just beside the canal. This is where I developed a passion for running. I ran almost everyday. It was my stress relief, my happiness booster and the perfect way to stay fit. Like everyone else, I started with short runs (3-4km) then gradually increased my mileage (10-15km). It’s only during my last year of university, that I finally decided to sign up for my first running race (the Ottawa Race Weekend 10km) and my first triathlon (the Early Bird Sprint Triathlon), and that was it. I was hooked!

thumb_IMG_5241_1024

The TriNova crew!

In 2010, I moved to Newcastle, Australia to do my Master of Teaching. I immediately joined the TriNova Triathlon Squad which I trained and raced with for two years. I had excellent coaches (thanks a million for everything Rod and Ben!) and I developed great friendships with the athletes. My schedule consisted of eating, sleeping, training and studying (and ok, a little bit of partying!). During my two years down under, I participated in many races (my first half marathon was in beautiful Sydney!) and completed numerous triathlons, included my first half Ironman (1.9km swim, 90km bike, 21km run) on the sunny Gold Coast! I can say that I made the most of it while I was there!

I came back home in 2012, fit as ever, looking to improve myself even more. I join the Zone3Sports Triathlon Club where I was coached by The Great Rick Hellard. His guidance combined with hard work, brought me to the 70.3 (half Ironman) World Championships in Las Vegas in September 2013. To my great surprise, I finished 3rd in my age group (25-29 years old)! This is when I decided that I wanted to step it up a notch. I wanted to do my first full Ironman (3.8km swim, 180km bike,42km run)!

thumb_IMG_5242_1024

Ironman 70.3 Mont-Tremblant. We all qualified for the World Championships!

Last year, I had the chance to join the Équipe Merrell supportée par Louis Garneau. The team is formed of long-distance triathletes from Québec and Ontario and is supported by great sports equipment companies. Wow, I was getting sponsored! I felt like superstar! My whole season was focused on Ironman Tremblant which was in August. My new coach, Philippe Bertrand from Lifesports, and I had the secret dream of qualifying for World Championship in Kona, Hawaii. From January to August, I swam three times a week, biked way too many km’s and ran like never before. I was motivated and dedicated as ever. Triathlon was not only my passion, it was my lifestyle. On the 18th of August, I not only completed my first Ironman, but I even finished first female amateur! I couldn’t believe it, I had my ticket to Kona! In October, I had the immense chance to race the world’s most famous triathlon. It was by far, the most challenging race I did: salty choppy ocean water, incredible winds on the bike, heat and humidity on the run. Nevertheless, I finished with a big smile on my face, 7th in my age group. I couldn’t ask for a better way to sum up my 2014 season. A huge thank you to all our amazing sponsors who made this possible: Merrell, Louis Garneau, TYRPolar and Compressport. Merci du fond du coeur!

10352909_692785877483092_2897844304540196603_n (1)

The 2014 team

After this wonderful year, I felt the need to take a step back. For the last few years, I’ve been very dedicated to triathlons. I trained hard, raced with my heart, travelled to new places, met incredible athletes and I wouldn’t change a thing about all of this. But now, it’s time to focus on another part of me. Therefore, I took the decision to take a sabbatical year to volunteer and travel abroad. This is something that I’ve been waiting to do for a while, but never really gave myself the opportunity to follow this dream. I now have the chance to do it, so I jumped right on the occasion! I feel very lucky to have a job and an entourage that fully support me in this project. Soon after my school approved my leave, I found out about the Love4Gambia run and knew immediately that it was the perfect challenge for me! My whole summer will be dedicated to training, raising money for my campaign and planning a whole year of traveling! I’m so excited about what’s in front of me! Sometimes, you just have to trust life, follow your heart and seize the opportunity! :)

thumb_IMG_5244_1024

Proudly finishing my first Ironman!

To donate: https://www.canadahelps.org/fr/pages/love4gambia-run-2/

The Starfish Thrower

Bonjour!

First off, I would like to say that I feel very honoured to be the 2015 Love4Gambia runner. As you may already know, starting in September, I will be on a one year sabbatical leave from work. I’ve been a grade 7 math teacher for three years now and I must say I truly love my job! Just in case the thought crossed anyone’s mind, I am not playing hookie from school! Nor am I trying to escape my students by leaving the country, that will be difficult part. This opportunity is something that I have been dreaming of for a while now.

At our first staff meeting in September, one of my colleagues read us this short story to highlight the difference we, as teachers, have the ability to make in our student’s lives. It is called The Starfish Thrower.

Once upon a time, there was an old man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach every morning before he began his work. Early one morning, he was walking along the shore after a big storm had passed and found the vast beach littered with starfish as far as the eye could see, stretching in both directions.

Off in the distance, the old man noticed a small boy approaching.  As the boy walked, he paused every so often and as he grew closer, the man could see that he was occasionally bending down to pick up an object and throw it into the sea.  The boy came closer still and the man called out, “Good morning!  May I ask what it is that you are doing?”

The young boy paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean. The tide has washed them up onto the beach and they can’t return to the sea by themselves,” the youth replied. “When the sun gets high, they will die, unless I throw them back into the water.”

The old man replied, “But there must be tens of thousands of starfish on this beach. I’m afraid you won’t really be able to make much of a difference.”

The boy bent down, picked up yet another starfish and threw it as far as he could into the ocean. Then he turned, smiled and said, “It made a difference to that one!”

My colleague then told us to reflect upon this message throughout the school year.

My decision to partner with Nova Scotia Gambia Association will allow me to make that difference. I am not going to save the world. I won’t be able to stop war or hunger, nor to heal every ill person, but do believe that I can make a difference in someone’s life, somewhere on the planet. I will use my skills, my knowledge, my energy and time to make a positive change.

I believe that my expedition through The Gambia will be my first step in helping the country building healthier youth and communities. One little action is one step towards changing the world. Throughout my Love4Gambia run, I will be a starfish thrower, I will make a difference.

Juliane

My starfish necklace I bought when I was in Halifax. I will wear throughout my run across The Gambia! :)

My starfish necklace I bought when I was in Halifax. I will wear it throughout my run across The Gambia! :)

To donate: https://www.canadahelps.org/fr/pages/love4gambia-run-2/

A Warm Welcome to Our 2015 Runner; Juliane Lacroix!

I am so pleased to present this year’s Love4Gambia runner and fundraiser, Juliane Lacroix!

Juliane was born and raised in Northen Ontario, in the small French community of Hearst. From a very young age, Juliane has been very active and involved in different sports and clubs such as competitive swimming, cross country skiing, soccer, piano lessons, scouts, school council, just to name a few. Juliane is an enthusiastic and dynamic person; she is always willing to try something new!

In 2005, Juliane moved to the National Capital to study Theater and French at the University of Ottawa. During her fourth year, she decided she wanted to be a teacher. She has always loved working with children. Throughout her adolescence she worked as a babysitter, a piano teacher, a swimming instructor and a French tutor. Juliane loves the positive energy in children.

After completing her studies in Ottawa, Juliane moved ‘down under’ for two years, in Newcastle, Australia to complete her Master of Teaching. Studying abroad was one of Juliane’s dream. This is where she started participating in triathlons. She joined a club and automatically fell in love with the sport. During her time in Australia, she not only finished her Masters but traveled around the continent and completed over 20 triathlons and running races.

Juliane returned to Ottawa in 2012 where she soon started working as a Grade 7 teacher. Most of her free time was dedicated to training and racing. She was hooked! In 2013, she won 3rd place in her age-group at the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Las Vegas. Last summer, Juliane completed her first Ironman in Mont-Tremblant and qualified for the Kona World Championships in Hawaii where she finished 7th in her age-group. This woman is unstoppable!

Juliane decided to take a sabbatical year to travel and volunteer around the globe. “Another one of my bucket-list dreams!”, she said.  When she found out about the Love4Gambia project, she jumped at the opportunity! She is so excited to be running across The Gambia this fall while raising money for a great cause.

I told her that the experience will change her. She will meet some incredible people along the way. The NSGA support team in the Gambia is the best.

As someone who is also from northern Ontario, I feel a certain kinship with Juliane. I have no doubt that she will be incredible and I can’t wait for our Gambian brothers and sisters to meet her!

Bonne chance Juliane!!

To donate: https://www.canadahelps.org/fr/pages/love4gambia-run-2/

Love4Gambia 2015 – Are you ready?

Dear Running Community,
The NSGA is proud to release it’s official call for runners for Love4Gambia version 5.0 in the summer of 2015. We are looking for experienced runners to join Pa Modou, Spider and Yankuba on the epic 5th running of the 424km cross-country journey to the Atlantic Ocean in Banjul in either May/early June or late July/ August 2014 (scheduling around Ramadan – June 18 to July 17).

Our new runners will join the ranks of our previous 4 successful teams:

2011 – Erin Poirier & Ashley Sharpe

2012 – Andrea Moritz

2013 – Jennifer & Cielianna Pasiciel

2014 – Terry SanCartier

Who better to share why you should take advantage of this opportunity and run with it (pardon the pun), than these runners themselves:

“I can promise that running across an entire African country, with Pa Modou, Kebba and Spider at your side, will be the most glorious crowning achievement of your running career.” – Erin Poirier (Founder and 2011 runner)

“Love4Gambia was a fantastic experience that allowed me to merge my passion for running with that of exploring Africa with all of its beautiful people and landscapes. Pa Modou, Kebba and Spider are not just the best support crew any ultra runner could ask for, but they will also be your guides for all things Gambian.” – Andrea Moritz

“When I think about the great Love4Gambia 2013 run, I can’t help but smile to myself as a flood of happy memories returns to me. The run was a physical, emotional, mental, social, and spiritual experience on all levels.” – Jennifer Pasiciel

“What an incredible journey! I will forever remember this adventure and look back on it with fond memories.  The amazing team comprised of Pa, Yankuba and Spider, quickly became “my brothers from different mothers”!” – Terry SanCartier

If you are passionate about running and interested in changing the lives of young Gambians, then the Love4Gambia run is for you!

Please email us here to submit your interest and/or ask questions:

L4Gambia@gmail.com

Week 3 – Day 13, 14, 15, 16 and the Final Day!

After a great day of rest at the Sindola Hotel in Kanilai it’s time to hit the pavement again.

Day 13 – The skies are cloud covered, the sun peaks out from time to time but temperature-wise, it’s more bearable than it has been lately.

Yankuba joins me for the entire run. Because it’s easier to run in this weather, I decide to add some additional kilometres. We reach 30 kms and call it a day. Pa tells me that Erin is the L4G runner who ran the longest distance in one day; 31 kilometres. He then says; “Do you want to break the record?”. Not knowing that he was kidding, I head off. Why not? I’m always up for a challenge. Yankuba was about to grab something in the car but upon seeing me run off, he runs to catch up with me.

As we near the 32 kilometre mark, Yankuba says “I will stop 100 metres from 32 km as I want you to have the record”. I tell him that it’s awfully nice of him but not necessary as I will have the record in Canada while he will have the record here in the Gambia. He still insists on letting me go for the last 100 metres. I say nothing. As we are getting closer, Yankuba asks me how many metres left. I tell him 300. “Ok” – he says. “Let me know”. I say, “Sure. I will.” We are less than 100 metres and I say nothing. Yankuba asks me again and I tell him, “Almost there!”. Then he hears the beep of the Garmin indicating that we have reached 32 km. He looks at me with a surprised look on his face. I smile and tell him that there was no way I was going to let him hold back the last 100 metres. We are in this together. I ask him if he had ever run 32 kilometres in a day. He says no. I congratulate him.

Pa calls me the stubborn king. I take it as a compliment.

We drive to the previous director of the NSGA’s house. We are greeted warmly. I sleep outside for the third time during the run. I sleep well with the gentle breeze and the mosquito net protecting me.

Day 14 – We wake up early. I slept well outside. The director’s wife insists that we stay for breakfast. Pa tells her that it’s not possible. But she insists. And so Pa agrees to stop by when I reach their house. I start 14 kilometres before their house.
It’s much hotter today than it was the day before. The sun is out in full force.

We reach the previous director’s house and stop to eat. I have a few nibbles of rice and some bread from the communal large dish. Given that I have another 11 k to run, it’s not a good idea to have a big meal. There’s chicken and vegetables served over rice. I let the guys dig in. There a live chicken hanging around as we eat outside. I give her a few pieces of bread.

I take a few photos of the large cotton tree just outside the compound. It’s a beautiful large tree.

Back on the road – Yankuba and Spider are running with me. I notice their pace has slowed down from all that food. I give them a bit of a reprieve but then bring the pace back up again and they follow.

At the end of the run, it’s time to drive to Banjul. I look forward to it. We drive to Stew Scott’s place, a Canadian from Ottawa, working for the International Monetary Fund. I stayed at his place on my first several days in Banjul. I look forward to getting to his place again. He’s got 24 hr electricity and AC; two things I didn’t see much of over the last few weeks. Plus, his place is right by the ocean and the sound of the waves is relaxing.

Day 15 – Within a few kilometres of the run, Yankuba and I have company; some students, boys and girls, who are heading to school.

10421618_10152146200742547_1733330831902350578_n

They decide to run with us. And run they do for more than a kilometre. We stop and I give them each a pencil. We takes some photos then continue on the run. They decide to continue running with us. Yankuba tells me that they shouldn’t be running as they will get all sweaty before class. We thank them for running with us and ask them to walk the rest of the way to school. We press on.

10492537_10152146200392547_8773222295460366732_n

We reach a mosque and decide it’s a good place for a break as there is plenty of shade. The place is surrounded by mango trees. Spider and Pa ask a young woman who is sweeping nearby if they can pick some mangoes. She comes out with a large stick and starts knocking down the mangoes to the ground. Spider climbs up one tree and grabs the stick to get those higher up. The guys fill a large bag with fresh ripe mangoes. We each eat one before continuing on our run.

I realize that this is my last chance during this run to snap some photos. Up until now, I was so focused on the running that I barely stopped to take some photos with my DSLR. I always left a point and shoot camera with the guys but I rarely used it myself. And so, on this last day, I’m using the camera more to get some shots.

We reach Brikama and call it a day. It’s hot and humid out.

Day 16 – For the first time during the run, I will be escorted by a policeman. The traffic is bad here from Brikama to Westfield. I’m dreading the smoky toxic car, truck and motorcycle fumes. I am calling today’s run, the “Toxic Run”.

Spider and Yankuba start off with me. The policeman is a very nice guy. I talk with him before we leave. He is the same guy that escorted Jen and her sister last year. To start his motorcycle, he has to push it, pop the clutch and then hop on. He has the siren on most of the time.

The traffic gets worse and worse as we advance. People look on. Some cheer and others just stare. The most warm welcome comes from a large group of women selling things in a market area. They clap and cheer as we run by and wave.

We get word from the policeman halfway through that the road may be closed in the next hour for the president’s motorcade. When the president travels, he doesn’t put up with the congestion. I increase my speed; I want to get out of the fumes asap and make it to Westfield before the road is closed.

For the first time during the entire run, I get annoyed by all the vehicles and the fumes. I’m sure it’s not easy on the lungs. Luckily, there are large groups of school kids along the way. Their smiling faces and cheering sounds made the run much more enjoyable.
The sun gets hotter as we near the end of the run.

10299016_10152147765382547_1553953850709209302_n

Day 17 – The last day!

We get to Westfield late. It is after 9 am. We wait and wait for the media to arrive. After the experience I had at the press conference just before the run, I knew it would take a while.

The television reporter didn’t have a video camera and so we used the NSGA camera instead.

Finally at 10 am we start running. Pa Modou’s brother is there, Jaynaba, Spider’s wife and several others accompany us on the run. It’s nice to have the company.

10425111_10152149824222547_8849230714867865821_n

There’s congestion but we manage to move through it. We arrive at the Bajul Arch and are greeted by many school kids. We stop briefly and then continue. Not far left until we reach the Atlantic Ocean.

We stop at less than a kilometre to go. Yankuba’s marching band is waiting for us. After 10-15 minutes, they are ready and start playing and marching towards the water. For the first time in the entire run, I walk. The L4G team and our invited guest runners walk arm in arm.

Metres from the water, we stop. The four of us hold hands and raise them up in the air. After a few photos, we start running to the water. The water is warm and salty. And just like that, the run comes to an end. We are overjoyed!

I realise that I didn’t use my GoPro digital video camera along for the ride and so we get out to do that last part again. But the television reporter wants to do the interview right there by the water. I do the interview on my own then Pa speaks and we all stand with him.

Finally, we run back in the water, with the camera this time.

We are being asked to rush out as there is a ceremony and celebration at the NSGA office. I’m pleased to hear that but I need some time here in the water.

I tell the guys that we are not leaving now. I need just a few more minutes to let this sink in. We huddle together and Pa says some nice words. I stay in the water a few more moments and then it’s time to leave.

10456017_10152149836907547_5282239661547801426_n

At the NSGA office we attend the ceremony where Pa, Yankuba and myself speak. We presented with certificates and are asked some questions from the media.

Then the food arrives. I’m glad and so are the others as we are all hungry.

And so, just like that, the run comes to an end. Months of planning, fundraising and training all come to an end with our feet splashing in the salt water. I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out!

No more routine of charging the Garmin for the next day’s run (sometimes using my solar charger), mixing the electrolyte mix in my two bottles, ensuring my running shoes are dry, prepping the clothes (sometimes washing some by hand) and ensuring there is enough bottled water.

My body, my legs, my feet took well to the daily running and I adjusted quickly to the heat. I ran without any headphones or music. I supplied my own music from memory. I had no blisters on my left foot and two very small ones on my right foot a few days in the first week that I was able to get under control immediately. I brought a hydration pack to carry on my back but I never used it. I relied solely on the support vehicle.

What I will always remember from my run across the Gambia is; the smiling faces of the many children I passed along the way; the kids who ran along in footwear that was less than ideal and yet they followed; their gratitude in my simple gestures of handing out empty water bottles, handing out pencils, stickers and candy; the many elders we passed who congratulated us and said that they would pray for us. Some even prayed right there on the spot.

What I found very different, was how un-shy the kids were and how much they wanted to shake my hand, touch my skin, gently touch the hair on my arms or legs. Physical contact is a very normal part of life here and it doesn’t matter if you’re a stranger.

Time to rest and enjoy this great accomplishment!

Week 2 – The Adventure Continues! (Day 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12)

My apologies for the delay in posting this blog. So many great things have happened since I last wrote. I’ll start from the day after I posted my last blog post.

IMG_2086

I am nervous as the day progresses on my first rest day of the run (Friday June 13th). I know the naming ceremony will be happening and I don’t know what to expect. The guys assure me that it will be great.

After 5:20 pm, it is time for me to take my place on a large mat on the ground. Around me are people from the hotel where I am lodged, Bintou’s Paradise Lodge. There are many kids from the neighborhood. There’s a older woman playing percussion with two wooden sticks on a large plastic container. There’s another woman next to her and she is using the top of a cooking pot on a wooden pestle. Together they keep the beat and sing along. The women who work at the lodge take turns dancing in the traditional Gambian way. It is a sight to see.

10458164_10152124679977547_6218845975730462904_n

Eventually, Yankuba joins in. He sure can dance! And later, Spider joins in – another great dancer!

More and more kids are gathered around. I ask them to come join me on the mat. I’m not comfortable sitting by myself. A few come at first, then more and more join in. Most want to sit right next to me and touch me. I shake their hands repeatedly as they keep putting their hands out.

10470915_10152124683192547_1880579055293846730_n

The owners of the lodge, Ebrima and Bintou are on their way. They are delayed due to two flat tires on their drive back to the lodge.

I am asked several times to dance. I oblige but am not comfortable with the idea, but I decide to just go with it and have fun. It’s great! And the locals seem pleased by my participation.

Yankuba makes THE speech. Time to find out what my Gambian name will be. He speaks and I don’t understand a word he says. He says a few funny things and the people laugh. Finally, he gives me my name: Ebrima. I am named after the owner of the lodge. I am very pleased to hear this as I’ve had several discussions with him and he is a very nice man.

Finally, Ebrima and Bintou arrive honking their horn as they drive through the compound doors. The kids and all of us run out to the car. People are singing and clapping. The guys tell Ebrima that they have named me after him. He is so pleased to hear it and give me a big handshake and a hug. I also get a hug from Bintou before we all head back to the main area.

There’s more dancing and fun. What a great evening!

After everyone leaves, Pa, Spider, Yankuba and myself have dinner by the Gambia river in the moonlight. It’s a full moon tonight.

There are a few fishermen just several metres from where we are. They are using nets to catch fish.

Time to go to bed and run the next morning bright and early.

I sleep well every night. My earplugs are my weapon of choice. I pop them in and sleep soundly.

The electricity in the lodge comes on at about 7 or 8 pm (never at the exact same time) and stays on till 2 am. That means I have air conditioning till 2 am. Every night I wake up at 3 am from the extreme heat in the room. The only thing separating me from the heat outside is the curtain between the bathroom (which has openings to the outside that I can’t close) and my room. Not very effective in keeping the heat and humidity out. Still, I manage to fall asleep again and wake up at 5:30 to get ready for the day’s run.

I pack up all my things as we are not returning to the lodge after my run for Day 6.

We drive out to the starting point and take a photo; our fingers indicating what run day it is.

Every day on my run, I’m cautious not to step on animal excrement. It’s everywhere. The farm animals roam freely.

And speaking of the animals, I see cows, goats, sheep, donkeys (I’ll forever associate their sound with the Gambia as I’d never heard that before coming here), dogs and chickens. Sometimes I have to run around them but it’s rare as they usually get out of the way.
I’ve seen many baboons this week but from a distance. They keep their distance from humans. I’ve also seen red monkeys, a few big rats run across the road, some squirrels, some wild boars.

I never tire of hearing the birds in the morning. There are so many colourful birds. I seek them out when I run along.

The smells along the way – I must talk about those. I can’t tell you how many times everyday I smell the distinct unpleasant odor of a rotting corps in the sun (a cow, dog, sheep, whatever). There’s also the smell of burning; either grass, wood, something toxic or simply charcoal for cooking food

I have to watch out for motorbikes and vehicles. Although they have plenty of room to go around, they insist on driving as close to me or whoever is running with me. Ridiculous, but it’s part of the daily routine. The other things these machines cause? Exhaust fumes! And some, a lot more than others. From diesel (or gas-oil as it is know here) to whatever else they are burning, some of it is black and toxic. I cover my face with my shirt when I encounter those.

This week, I totally depleted my candy stock. I still have stickers and pencils. I’ve been handing out all three to some very grateful children. I’ve also been handing out used 1.5 litre plastic water bottles. They are a hot commodity and are used and re-used for various things.

I have fun with my team. As we continue to advance daily to Banjul we bond more and more. I can honestly say that for me, they are my brothers from different mothers. We laugh a lot together.

We have decided that every day, it would be someone’s turn to be king for the day. We must all hail the king and be nice to the king. I would say that Pa is the most vengeful king and when his turn comes we must be on our best behaviours or else! Of course, it’s all in good fun!

In Jarreng, I have the pleasure of sleeping outside – with a mosquito net of course. The place has solar panels but they are no longer working, which means no fan and that means extreme heat in the room.  We take the mattress’ off the beds and take them outside.  I sleep very well.  A first, I am told for a Love4Gambia runner.

We reach an important milestone this week; the halfway point!  212 km on Day 9.

IMG_2079

On Friday June 20th, I was supposed to take a day off but decided to run that day. And so on day 12, I ran 25 kilometres. Having run on that day means that I’ve run 25 or more kilometres 7 days in a row; a first for me. Then again, this run across the Gambia is a run of many firsts for me.

Speaking of first, I think I can safely say that no one has run in the Gambia while wearing a kilt. Yes, that’s exactly what I did for the first 8 kms of the day on Day 12 and so did the team. They all took turns wearing the kilt and running 2 km.  In Perth Ontario, I’ve participated in every edition of the kilt run and I didn’t want to miss it and so, I brought my kilt to Africa and ran it here.

The Kilt Run

We have a blast! The guys really get into it. Running through villages and seeing the people’s faces and reactions was priceless!

IMG_2367

Today, June 21 is my second and last day of rest on this run. Gen and I talked a few days before and she decided, as a gift, that she would cover the cost at the Sindola hotel for the guys. The guys were very pleased to hear that and thanked Gen from the bottom of their hearts! We spend part of the day in the pool and enjoy our surroundings.

Tomorrow, I continue with the run. 5 days till Banjul. 119 kilometres left till we reach the ocean!

The Adventure Begins! Days 1 through 5

I am writing my blog from Bintou’s Paradise Lodge in Bansang. I’m up on the second floor balcony overlooking the Gambia River. To my right, I can see the ferry go back and forth. It is not a motor driven ferry but rather, it relies on manpower to get across. There’s a large steel cable and at least four men use large hooks to pull the boat across. They haul large delivery trucks and cars across. It sure is something you don’t see very often.

I am happy to report that my total so far (drum roll :) is: 126 kilometres! Less than 300 kilometres to go!

Day 1 to 5

Day 1 to 5

The weather is certainly hot and humid! Especially in the east end of the country where I started my run on Sunday on the Gambia-Senegal border.

Before I give a brief summary of each day, I’ll explain my day to day preparation ritual:
The night before, I make sure I have enough water. I purchase my water in bottles as I can’t drink the local unpurified water (not even to brush my teeth). A 1,5 litre bottle of water costs 25 Dalasis each. About 60 cents Canadian.

I prepare two 1 litre bottles of electrolyte drink in platic drinking jugs. I get my clothes ready and have an extra pair of shoes and socks on hand in case I need them. For all my runs, I’ve been using the same pair of shoes.  I wash them with Tide liquid packs that I brought with me.

For breakfast, I managed to find some instant oatmeal at a store in Banjul; Maple and brown sugar flavor. I mix it with room temperature water and eat that. I drink plenty of liquids while I wait for the guys on the team to come pick me up. Sometimes I have to wait a bit longer for them. :)

In the car, I will sometimes munch on part of a piece of Gambian bread (looks like a small baguette – very good bread). Spider has premixed some Gambian peanut butter (peanuts or ground nuts as they are called here, are grown throughout the country) and Gambian honey. The honey has a smokey/ molasses taste to it. It is good.

I always carry my cameras with me; digital SLR, rugged point and shoot and GoPro Hi Definition video camera. Pa has been taking some great footage of me running. It is important to me that I document as much as I can. As a photographer, I see things along the way that I’d like to stop and photograph but I can’t photograph it all. The runner part of me is saying, keep going.

Day 1:

This is where it all begins. Months of training and preparation all comes down to this day. I’m excited! Our home base is in Basse. We have to travel just over 50 kilometres on a badly maintained red dirt road. There are holes everywhere and Pa is driving around them trying to avoid as many as possible.

We arrive at a remote village to pick some supplies. We continue driving toward the Senegal border along farm fields.

The Starting Point

We are at the starting point; a decaying concrete marker that has no marking whatsoever.
Time to run. It is just past 8 am. Almamo, who was a peer health educator and coordinator is accompanying us. He is always smiling and cracking jokes. All five of us run together for the first kilometre.

After 2 kms, Pa runs back to get the support vehicle; a white Nissan Patrol. Spider and Yankuba continue running with me.

The highlight of the day is arriving at a school and having the kids run out to come and see us. It was great to interact with them. I take out my camera and start taking photos of them and showing them the result on the screen. They sure got a kick out of that! They all want to be in the photos. I meet the teacher and give him some pencils and a bag of candy for the kids. He thanks me and then I continue with the run.

Yankuba and I run together to finish day one at 26 kilometres. What a feeling!! It is a hot day, humid but a light breeze in most areas makes it bearable. At times, the wind was so hot that it felt like a hairblower on hi heat.

Day 2:

Back on the dirt road, bright and early. It’s cooler, at least in the morning, than it was the day before. Starting ealier is definitely better.

Along the way I wave and say hello to the people who stop and stare at this “toubab” (white person) running. Here and there I hand out candy to the kids.

Holding a baby

Almamou runs from kilometre 15 with me. We have good conversation. He tells me about his experience being a peer health educator and coordinator. After 6 kms, he calls it a day.

By the end of the run, temperatures have warmed up considerably. Yankuba, Spider and I are happy to be done for the day. 25 kms total for the day. 51 kms overall. We reach the paved intersection in Basse. No more dirt roads for the rest of the run.

I feel a small cold coming on (in this heat???!!!).

Day 3:

In honor of the fallen RCMP officers, we wear red on our run today. We stop along the way and take a few moments in silence in their honor and for their families.

A moment of silence for the fallen RCMP officiers.

A moment of silence for the fallen RCMP officiers.

We don’t have far to go from where I’ve been staying for the past few day, the SOS Children’s Village (an orphanage). I’m settled in a separate little house with air conditioning (yes!) but the power is not turned on all day Darn!).

Spider, Yankuba and myself run through Basse. Basse is the largest city in the Gambia. We run through streets lined with shops and homes. Kids are walking to school. There are people on bicycles, on a donkey pulled cart, motorcycles, cars, on horseback and whatever means of travel at their disposal. There are cows walking the streets, goats , stray dogs and donkeys. I’ve never seen trucks and vans loaded up so high with whatever needs to be transported. One wrong turn and the whole vehicle could fall flat on its side.
In the next town, I give out candies (or “mintees” as they are known here) to the kids. Some are playing with used bicycle tires.

The highlight of the day is a little boy of around 8 or 9. Upon seeing us, he decides to run along on the dirt road parallel to us, in his bare feet! Yankuba yells at him to join us on the paved road but he stays. I get off the paved road and join the boy. He is running fast and we stay with him. He doesn’t speak. He just runs. I look at him and smile. How great is this? I tell Yankuba that we’ll stop at the next kilometre or until he decides to stop. Eventually, after almost 1 kilometre, he stops. I give him three “mintees” and a bag of water (in addition to plastic water bottles, water is sold in small bags here).

Our running companion

Day 4

I pack all my things as I won’t be staying in Basse after today’s run. We drive to the school crossing sign where we had stopped on day 3.

It is very hot and humid; the worse it has been so far. Temperature with humidity is in the high 40’s degrees celcius.

Poor Yankuba has a toothache. He stays in the car. Spider runs with me for several kilometres and I run the rest solo for the first time since I started the run. The guys don’t have to run with me but have taken upon themselves to run as much as they each can. Admirable, especially since they have all admitted to not have trained at all or very little.

Along the way, a woman decides to run as I’m coming along about 50 metres behind her. I catch up and run with her. After she stops, I thank her. Spider gives her some water and off I go on the road again.

I try to get my run in as fast as possible so we can get Yankuba to the hospital (they have dentists there).

At the hospital dentist, we are allowed in the room with the patient. I see the dentist insert the needle of anesthesia and press the contents in quickly. He is certainly not gentle. To my surprise he gets to work right away; he doesn’t have time to let the effects kick in I suppose. Yankuba is in major pain and is yelling, and at one point, he grabs the dentist’s hand to stop him. Finally, the dentist gives him one more shot and decides to wait 10-15 minutes to allow for the area to “freeze”. There’s no dental hygienist with a suctioning device. You have to spit in a bucket by the chair. A bucket that already has about an inch think of… How hygienic is that?

When the dentist comes back to finish the job, Pa decides to get up and leave the room. I do not need any convincing and I leave with him. When we return 15 minutes later, the dentist pulled out 2 teeth. Yankuba had an absess.

While all this was happening, Spider was elsewhere in the hospital getting treated for pain on his upper leg.

Both Spider and Yankuba are given prescriptions and so we drive to the nearest pharmacy. We arrive and I look at the place and exclaim “That’s not a pharmacy?!?!?”. But it was. And the guys got their pills.

For the next three nights, I’m staying at Bintou’s Paradise Lodge in Bansang.

Day 5

I wake up early and stand outside to wait for the guys. The owner of the place follows me out and we chat. He calls me Theo because, for him, it’s easier to remember than Terry. He speaks perfect French. He is Gambian-born but has spent over 30 years in Paris and still has a house there. His four children still live there.

Pa Modou is joining me on the run today. Before I go into the rest of my story, I must provide some context:

When Erin, the founder and first runner of Love4Gambia was running, she would talk to the guys as she ran. Certainly not something they are used to and/or enjoy doing. One day, Erin pointed out some homes and asked Kebba about why people would live in such poor conditions. Kebba, too tired to speak, just responded with one word; “Poverty!”. The guys still laugh about it today.

On today’s run, as I am chatting away, Pa says “I feel like responding “Poverty!”. We laugh. And then I say, “That bad eh?”. Suffice it to say, it didn’t stop me from talking. On his last kilometre of the day, I let him listen to his music.

Due to a bit of rain overnight, the air is less humid in the morning. The frogs can be heard loud and clear as areas that were dry the day before are now filled with water. They certainly don’t sound like our Canadian frogs. The sound is different and much much louder.

Today’s total is 25 kilometres and the total 126.

I’m so pleased with how the first week has gone. I hope it will continue!

Please note that donations are still accepted. I’m seeing first hand where the money is going and I can tell you that your donation is going to a very worthy cause!

Thank you for reading! (I am having difficulty posting images here, if you have a Facebook account, please have a look at the photos there.)